IFA Inspires the Industry to Think Beyond Its Borders
As I sat on the plane ride home from Berlin and another wildly successful IFA trade show, I can’t help but think back on the singular theme that came out of this trip: Co-innovation.
It wasn’t hard to miss the co-innovation branding that was plastered all over the Messe Berlin campus. But thinking about this show (and any consumer tech show really) with that concept planted at the center of everything really created the sort of “aha moment” that can inspire anyone who works in this industry—manufacturers, retailers, press people, etc.—to think more strategically about this world and what we’re all trying to accomplish in it.
But why this theme? Why did the organizers of IFA feel the time was right to call it out as a major theme for this show?
“It’s not a topic only for just this year, to be honest,” IFA Executive Director Jens Heithecker told me. “The start of co-innovation goes back years ago with the connected home, with connected devices. Different industries learned step by step that they had to cooperate and integrate different technologies in order to be successful. All of this collaboration, all of this co-innovation is visible, is transparent, and it made transparent in all of the products that you see here at the show.”
Heithecker was spot on about the displays of co-innovation at IFA. The more than 1,800 companies who exhibited at IFA that year brought all kinds of gadgets, big and small, and they all, in one form or another, became possible through co-innovation.
One of my personal favorite examples comes from TCL. The TV brand’s selection of sets in Europe is unlike anything we get to see int he U.S., but the way in which they think about their products is firmly grounded in this idea of co-innovation. Their latest innovation, the Living Window Series, is an impressive display of how a typical TV set can be turned into a literal piece of art, but the video technology only scratches the surface with this line. TCL developed and executed upon partnerships to help with the design of each of these sets, and then there’s the sound. TCL, especially in Europe, has made it’s mark by offering tremendous sound systems integrated right into their TVs. The Living Window Series does that through integrated soundbars and subwoofers from Onkyo. Another new TV from TCL this year sports a JBL soundbar integrated into the design of the product.
But if we’re talking on a much larger scale, the smart home—as Heithecker pointed out—is truly the segment within this massive industry where co-innovation is happening at an unthinkable pave and driving some of the most fascinating innovations. Take the two major voice platforms, for example, which were both on display in the IFA NEXT area of the show. Google and Amazon have made it a habit to co-innovate with companies large and small to integrate their digital assistants into an incredibly wide range of products, from third-party speakers, to televisions, to smart door locks and video cameras, to home appliances, and so much more. And when the voice platform isn’t integrated directly into a product, Amazon and Google are able to work with brands to develop “works with” technology that let’s the consumer control that product or thing using their voice.
As Amazon’s Daniel Rausch pointed out in his keynote in Berlin, Alexa as a platform has had a very real business impact not only on Amazon, but the companies and brands that develop for the voice platform. That’s co-innovation driving actual business.
And speaking of Rausch, he was invited on stage during another keynote—one delivered by Huawei’s impassioned CEO Richard Yu—where the two talked about how they’re co-innovating to disrupt the smartphone market.
Not to be forgotten amid all of the noise and buzz that new product launches generate, IFA has a number of various of platforms that run concurrent with the main show that also put co-innovation center stage. The new SHIFT Automotive show, which made its debut this year, is an example of IFA co-innovating with the automotive industry to bring together key decision makers from across the automotive and consumer tech industries to talk about the future of mobility. Already, these two sectors have begun working closer with one another to begin to integrate technology into cars. But it’s clear from the conversations that were had during SHIFT that we’re still in the very early stages of where this sector is heading, which mean’s there’s plenty of co-innovation left to be had. The IFA Global Markets are another example of co-innovation where buyers and brands come together and actively co-innovate right on the show floow. The separate IFA show has morphed into the largest sourcing show for the industry in just three years time, and is proof that co-innovation—when put to use properly—can have very impactful results.
“When we realized how relevant co-innovation is now for every part of this industry and every company participating in this show, then we had only one thing to do, and that was to bring this up in a very clear way with our co-innovation branding,” Heithecker said.
The funny thing is, co-innovation has been on display at IFA and other tech shows for years now. But what IFA did, by putting it in the spotlight and propping it up as a major theme this year, is they empowered everyone here to not only actively co-innovate, but to talk about why it’s important and how it’s driving this industry forward. And that’s the real winner.