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IFA and Startup night Berlin 2023, slow but steady
It's a busy weekend of tech in Berlin, but have things cooled or are we all taking a well-earned break?
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First, a couple of links
Even before Apple announced the iPad, seeing the first Amazon Kindle had me excited for the day that I would be able to leave my giant stacks of music scores at home.
The original iMac entered a computing world that desperately needed a shake-up. After the wild early days of the personal computer revolution, things had become stagnant by the mid-1990s.
The first Macintosh came out in 1984 with a familiar formula: expensive, limited, but elegant and easy to use. From the start it was something of a cult classic. Apple was struggling financially, and spent most of the 90s on hair-brained ideas: the Newton, the Pippin, the QuickTake.
Just before Christmas last year, a pastor preached a gospel of morals over money to several hundred members of his flock.
Get your sites sustainable! Officially.
My highlights of IFA and Startup night Berlin 2023
It’s been a few years since I attended Berlin’s Internationale Funkausstellung, better known as IFA. And after several slow years for conferences and trade fairs, capped off with a slowdown in tech and tech-adjacent spending, I was interested to know what the show floor would feel like.
Think of IFA as Europe’s CES. It’s been running longer than CES (100 years next year), but whilst most people have heard of CES, not so many have heard of IFA. American dominance, I guess. Much like CES, it is ostensibly a consumer electronics fair, which means that for people like me who cover more “technical tech”, there’s typically only a small percentage of products and companies that interest me to write about. There are also products that interest me personally, but more often than not, they cross over with personal interest anyway.
Watch for a video version soon, showing more hands-on with products and a few gems not included here.
Typically, the hall that interests me most is IFA Next, which focuses on startups, with talks and small product booths. IFA Next is still relatively new, and I struggle to remember how busy it was in previous years, but this year, it felt empty of exhibitors, with what looked like many empty booth spaces. I visited on Friday, and it probably didn’t help that Berlin startup night (more on that later) was also running that evening. With limited resources and two major events, I get the feeling that many companies possibly ditched the Friday, but it’s hard to tell. It looked like half the hall was booked by La French Tech and a Korean delegation, with a few other countries’ companies squashed in between. The number of exhibitors aside, foot traffic was reasonable, and even some of the talks were well attended.
I have only recently discovered the world of controller devices, and maybe it’s because I am new to the space, but I feel like the product ecosystem is exploding right now. The stream deck and Loupedeck have existed for a reasonable amount of time, and larger companies have now acquired both of them. Newer entrants include inTech, and Invaiz is another to add to that list. There’s a differentiation to make with many of the products in this space. Some are controllers that send generic signals that conform to pre-defined protocols such as MIDI, while others use proprietary protocols, which means you need to use their SDKs to build integrations or reverse engineer them to intercept signals in other ways.
Invaiz falls into the latter category, as do many devices primarily aimed at video editors, as the software often doesn’t support any of these control protocols. This means you are limited to using them with only the software they support (for now), which is almost all Adobe tools, plus Office (so don’t ask me why), and a few others. Those limitations aside, what attracted me to the devices was the plethora knobs and buttons, coupled with bank switches that would enable a lot of flexibility. The main problem for me is that the controller software is currently Windows-only
Somewhat related to Invaiz, but aimed at music producers was Joué. It consists of several rubber overlays for a MIDI controller that simulates standard musical instruments like a piano, drum kit, and guitar. You can then play each of those instruments in a manner more like the real instrument and generate MIDI values. It’s mostly aimed at education, but it was a cool idea with a lot of flexibility.
Sorry to disappoint you, but while I find the halls full of the latest TVs, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and ovens fascinating. I am not going to cover them. Expect maybe to mention when I overheard one smaller booth announcing a “ChatGPT-powered TV” that raised a semi-concerned smile. I also take curious pleasure in wandering the halls of (mostly) Chinese OEMs and generic component manufacturers (who were finally back), spotting bits and pieces I recognise from Amazon and other retailers. But again, I won’t cover all of those.
Those hundreds, if not thousands of products aside, what did I spot that appealed to me?
Many years ago, Switchbot sent me a curious device that aimed to bring IoT connectivity to those who live in apartments. You stuck it on over your inbuilt light switch, and via a small mechanical arm, you could control it to switch the lights on and off. Whilst it was a great idea, I could never get it to work with the large square switches in our apartment, and it’s languished in a drawer ever since. The company has since expanded its product line, and at IFA, they were exhibiting robot vacuum cleaners. I am a recent convert to these wonderful time-saving devices, and IFA was full of them. But let’s be honest, they mostly all look and function the same way. Switchbot’s S10 is different. Designed for those living in small spaces, it’s available in several different sizes, including some much smaller than many of the “standard” robot vacuums. While, of course, this reduces capacity, it means it can get into and under many areas the larger models can’t.
Insta360 Go 3
I hang out in some communities that love Insta360’s cameras. I don’t have much need for a 360-degree or portable “vlogging” camera, but like many things, I still find them fascinating. The Go 3 is flexible, and you can pin it to clothing, whack it on sticks, carry it, and all sorts of other options to get that perfect shot whenever you need to. I am a little disappointed with the recording formats available (compressed only), and you can’t connect it as a camera to a computer, but I guess that would defeat the point anyway.
Despite the promised “house of robots” at AFI, most of those on display were relatively old, “seen it before” models doing dumb tricks. Though one served me a drink. Which was average and made very slowly. So, just like most bars in Berlin.
The one that did stand out as something different visually and in function was the mirokaï. Mounted and moving on a large ball with a changeable animated face, the mirokaï is designed primarily for medical tasks such as carrying and moving equipment.
Strategically nestled in between much better-known brands like Belkin was a company I had never heard of but whose products immediately grabbed me. j5create is a manufacturer for others as well as releasing their own products. Their products include HDMI capture, USBC docks, etc., which are nothing new, but thanks to their direct-to-consumer sales model, the quality-to-price ratio is exceptional. None of them adds anything particularly new to existing product lines, but it’s interesting to be able to get your hands on many of the devices you can find spread across e-commerce sites to see what they’re really like.
I love external screens, and when I travel, I really miss my setups. Mostly, I use sidecar with my iPad, but it is a little small and doesn’t always stay connected. Recognising this growing desire for remote workers, companies like mobile pixels produce a variety of travel-optimised external screens. What made them different (and attracted a lot of attention) was their model configuration.
There’s the trio and trio max, which consists of two wing-like screens you put on either side of your laptop screen.
And the Geminox, which I think is more designed for computers without a screen, has two panels with a hinge that opens upwards. You can configure the screens as one large canvas or two separate ones.
OK, not officially part of IFA, but it was scheduled on the same weekend this year, so I consider it a side event. It felt much busier than IFA next, but it was also a smaller venue, so maybe it was purely impressions.
Space… It’s the next frontier. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And I’m wrong anyway. Space and space-related small businesses are already pretty active. Most of them launch satellites of varying sizes and some for surprisingly small amounts of money. Reflex builds and plans to launch custom satellites within 12 months of order with reproducibility and security in mind.
One of the things I like most about speaking with companies at events like IFA and Startup Night is when you encounter use cases that surprise you and that you know nothing about. Prosthetic legs are typically expensive and usable models only affordable by people in the West, probably covered by health insurance. Horus wants to change this, using 3D scanning and moulding combined with a custom knee joint that’s made out of more standard parts but feels as natural as possible.