IFA 2018 brings different industries together

Voice control dominated, automotive teamed with tech, and disruption is imminent, co-innovation is the future – and the show’s executive director Jens Heithecker reports a strong IFA

For IFA executive director Jens Heithecker, IFA 2018 was “one of the strongest” in his memory. “It’s because of international attendance,” he said. “Again we have more international trade visitors. Over the last few years we’ve had a constant rise in international attendance – and clearly there is still potential for more growth.” Attendance for the keynote addresses was “overwhelming”, he said. “Audiences for the IFA+ Summit were the largest we’ve seen; IFA Next has doubled in size and it was packed every day.”

But he said that numbers don’t properly reflect the success of the event. “It’s about the quality, and the makeup of the people and the companies that we can integrate and bring together. You can see in the different halls that when you bring people together, to network, you get surprising things that you didn’t expect – that’s what I’m talking about, quality,” he said. “And people are surprised when they see things they didn’t expect. They go home in a good mood with a positive expectation and prospects for their own business.”

This year saw the introduction of Shift Automotive, a two-day convention aimed at bringing together the automotive and technology industries. A departure from IFA’s core business, but one to which there is a logic. “We are a consumer electronics and home appliances show, we focus on products and services and we want to keep this strategic focus because this is the real USP of IFA, it’s the real benefit for all our exhibitors and trade visitors,” Heithecker said. “But, connected living now goes beyond the devices we have here at IFA – it now includes mobility. And the question was, ‘How do we integrate mobility into this focus and at the same time maintain the core bene ts of IFA?’ So we decided we would not make it a new part of the exhibition, we would organise it as a convention, over the final two days – bringing together these two industries in a very smart way. That was the goal, and we achieved it.”


Shift Automotive was the embodiment of the IFA mantra for 2018: #co- innovation. “What we’ve developed with IFA Next is a platform for co-innovation. We are so convinced that the new innovations will be the result of the coming together of different industries,” he said.

And while Shift Automotive is effectively a forum for fostering co-innovation, the dominance of voice control (VC) at this year’s IFA is a clear example of how co- innovation is happening right now.

“It has come as a surprise for a lot of people, the explosion and relevance of VC. VC is the new user interface and it will come very fast to every device,” Heithecker said. “I was just recently at a digital radio convention and I heard one speaker on stage and she told the audience: ‘Voice control means voice is back!’ She is right. Voice now has a new function – it’s the revival of voice. But it’s ultimately about bringing together different industries and we definitely want to be the platform for this. Not as a technology platform – we want to bring the innovators from different industries together, to talk to each other, to learn from each other and to develop new ideas. That’s what we do at IFA Next, that’s what we do at IFA+ Summit and, very obviously, now we do it at Shift Automotive, which brings two industries together.”

Different industries are now collaborating on products that have been in the home for decades and which had hardly changed over that time. “Think about the interface with a voice-controlled washing machine,” Heithecker said. “Today you’re talking about two different industries – you need the machine manufacturer and you need the tech – the AI and the IoT. When you watch product development in different areas there is much more than coincidence, there is at the end, a strategy – and we thought the best description for it is co- innovation.” He added: “I think the conception of #co-innovation by IFA was to make it much more transparent to the industry, to put across the idea that co-innovation is not done by coincidence, it’s not by simply integrating VC into a product – you have to look for new partners. Don’t try it on your own. And you may have to change the industry to make this tangible and transparent. That was our strategy at this years IFA.”

Digital technologies have brought disruption to a number of industries – notably the music industry, first with the arrival of the CD, then MP3 and finally the internet, which many thought would be its death. But after a long and painful recovery and considerable disruption, music is back – if not as we knew it. So where is the next big disruption coming from and will it hit the traditional IFA client?

“I see it in the car manufacturing industry. What they did in the past was bring in technology from elsewhere, like communications technology, digital entertainment, navigational systems – but it’s never been fully integrated, it’s not a new product at the end, they’ve just added some devices. The end product can be integrated in better ways,” he said. “The digital potential of a car is much more than a collection of technologies on four wheels. It’s much more than the competition between Tesla and the traditional car manufacturers. The car industry is not an engineer- driven business any more. You will see a lot of disruption in this product in the next couple of years, I am very, very positive about it.”

So can the organisers of IFA see a time when the tech giants will take over the trade floors? As is happening at the conventions of other industries around the world? “Well there are two limits to that possibility: one is the capacity of our trade show. At the moment we are fully booked and we will have to see what happens to all the markets, to all the players. We have seen huge movements of players in the market in the last 20 years – in and out. There are huge dynamics in this market at the moment.”


And secondly why does Google need to be at IFA? “What would it bring to our trade visitors, to our retailers? And how can you experience all these Google services in the end – and by the way, what’s the Google business model? Are they still selling advertisements in a very sophisticated way? There are big differences between some of the tech giants. For example what Amazon is wanting is a door to their online shop in every possible device. It’s not about advertising first, it’s about opening the door to the Amazon shopping world,” he said.

“If you’re talking about Google VC, on the other hand, that’s a different way of being relevant to the market – they do it via the operating software. They come in from the back end, from the supply chain, putting operating software, including VC, into devices. It’s a completely different business model to Amazon. They need to get to the source directly – for this they need search and operating software.”

So disruption is coming. But when was the last big disruption that the consumer electronics industry saw?

“There have been many small disruptions but the big one was flat-screen TV,” Heithecker said. “In just a few years they switched very fast into this technology and mastered this technology – the speed with which they mastered it was amazing. We have totally new supply chains for these TV sets. And we saw a couple of manufacturers who didn’t master it. But it was a huge disruption and the flight is still going on”.

Photo: Jens Heithecker, IFA Executive Director