IFA 2020 Delivers Several Significant Smart Home Announcements
IFA events are a remarkable experience, as anyone who has attended one will likely tell you. Meticulously planned and held in exciting European locales, IFA gives journalists and tech analysts alike a chance to see what the superstars of the tech space have been working on. Of course, all of that was before COVID-19 came knocking on the world’s door. While the formal IFA press conference in April was canceled, like many other high-profile industry events, I was glad when the organizers of IFA 2020 announced they would be holding a virtual/physical event in early September.
Even with the unorthodox format, there were some newsworthy announcements made at the event—particularly from a smart home standpoint. Here’s my take on what I consider to be the top three.
Neato shows its innovation in the high-end robotic vacuum space
Due to its aggressive marketing and wide range of price points, iRobot’s Roomba is the brand most consumers associate with robotic vacuum solutions. That said, I’ve always been drawn to Neato for its cutting-edge cleaning performance and features, its intuitive setup and its high-quality, designed-to-last hardware. At IFA Berlin 2020, Neato announced several new high-end models—the D8, D9, and D10—which stand to inject a healthy dose of innovation into the robotics vacuum category.
Neato’s “D-shaped” product design has long set it apart from the oval-shaped form factors of Roomba and other robotic vacuum solutions. There’s a reason Neato stays committed to this design: it enables the vacuum to travel from corner to corner and edge to edge for more comprehensive cleaning.
The new flagship D10 model comes equipped with a genuine HEA filter, the first to appear in a robot vacuum on the market, which purports to capture up to 99.97 percent of allergens and particles, such as dirt and dander, as small as 0.3 microns. It also offers an impressive runtime of 150 minutes. The Neato D8 and D9 models offer respective runtimes of 90 and 120 minutes, which should be sufficient for modest-size homes and apartments.
All of these new models feature the category’s broadest brush and largest dust bin to date, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for easier product setup. Additionally, they feature the company’s signature LIDAR-based LaserSmart technology, which employs lasers that purport to map cleaning areas more accurately (even in the dark) than competitive robotic vacuums that use “bounce around” algorithms. I’m glad Neato remains committed to LIDAR technology—it facilitates more advanced capabilities (like mapping “keep out” zones for pet eating zones) that are not possible with non-LIDAR solutions.
Neato did not announce pricing for these new models, but the company said they would become available this fall. As a long-time user of Neato products, I’m glad to see the company maintain its reputation for innovation with these new models.
TCL uses IFA 2020 to expand its brand beyond smart TV
TCL, the China-based smart TV powerhouse, unveiled several new products at IFA 2020, including tablets with screen technology designed to mimic the experience of reading on paper, AirPod Pro-like headphones and a smartwatch aimed at the elderly.
Starting at $299 for the WiFi-only model, the TCL 10 TabMax features a 10.36” screen, 13-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front camera and an 8,000-mAH battery. Meanwhile, the smaller TCL 10 TabMid includes an 8-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front-facing camera and a smaller 5,500-mAh battery. The TCL 10 TabMid will start at $269 for the WiFi-only model. Both tablets, which will be available in the fourth quarter, utilize TCL’s unique NXTVision technology, which offers 25% more contrast than traditional LCD screens. This produces an experience similar to reading on paper.
Perhaps inspired by Apple’s ongoing success in the smartwatch space, TCL also announced the Movetime Family Watch MT43A. This device includes hands-free 2-way calling, heart-rate monitoring, medication reminders and automatic fall detection. This smartwatch also uses a 4G connection to make calls and receive text messages. You can also use the watch to place an emergency SOS call by pressing a button on the side. While it may be less versatile than a genuine Apple Watch, the device’s narrower, essential functions may appeal to older adults. The smartwatch is priced at an attractive $269.
Lastly, TCL unveiled its Moveaudio S200 True Wireless headphones, designed to compete with Apple AirPods. These headphones feature electronic noise cancellation and four integrated microphones to maximize voice calling, and offer up to 3.5 hours of battery life on a single charge (or up to 23 hours with the charging case). TCL being TCL, they will be available in September at $115 (over $100 less expensive than AirPods Pro).
Following the “foldable” trend established by Samsung and Microsoft, TCL also provided short updates about its “rollable” phone displays and its wearable design initiative (dubbed Project Archery). While neither of these technology concepts will appear in commercial solutions in 2020, TCL is clearly trying to establish itself as a thought leader in the tech space. TCL already has a reputation as a visionary in the smart TV space with its unorthodox approach of manufacturing its own glass displays. The prospect of the company developing foldables is intriguing as it has the scale to mitigate the costs that are typically associated with this premium device category.
Schneider Electric: a sustainable vision for the smart home
Founded in 1836, Schneider Electric may not be the first company that comes to mind when one thinks about the smart home. That said, the English multinational company gave an impressive presentation at IFA 2020 that should dramatically raise its profile beyond its enviable (if under the radar) long-standing reputation in the construction sector.
Manish Pant, the company’s CEO and EVP of Home and Distribution, gave an impassioned presentation of the company’s smart home approach. With residential housing on track to become the biggest consumer of electricity globally in the coming years, Schneider Electric contends a true smart home isn’t “smart” at all unless it also embraces sustainability. And according to Pant, genuinely sustainable smart homes could be a reality within the next ten years.
Within the construction sector, Schneider Electric is an established leader in energy management and automation. At the event, the company unveiled its new “Sustainable Home of Future” portfolio of smart home energy solutions, launched under its Wiser brand. Offerings include Power Tag, Acti9 Active, and a room-by-room Temperature Control System, all of which can be affordably retrofitted into people’s homes and controlled via a single app.
What’s appealing about Schneider Electric’s vision is its focus on affordability and practicality; consumers tend to pushback on smart home solutions that can’t be easily (and subtly) integrated into older properties. The company’s Power Tag device is a simple “plug and play” sensor for a homeowner’s electric panel that tracks how much energy is used, not just how much is consumed. With this capability in place, occupants can set monthly consumption targets and receive critical alerts if the Wiser system calculates this figure will be surpassed, allowing people to avoid “electricity bill” shock.
The company strategy is much grander than what I’ve detailed above, and I will be providing more in-depth coverage of the company’s vision and plans in future columns. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the IFA 2020 presentation. I believe the company has the know-how, legacy, partner network and credibility to realize its vision.
A few closing thoughts
While I was initially concerned that my inability to attend IFA 2020 in person would make me less enthusiastic about the show, I’m glad to report that this wasn’t the case.
Undoubtedly, the inability to attend an event like this in person has downsides—you miss out on the off-the-record conversations with industry execs, seeing colleagues from all over the world in-person, and exploring the local cuisine. However, companies have gotten very good at delivering these virtual presentations. What’s more, covering them from the comfortable confines of my office allows me to pay closer attention, take better notes and become a better analyst. The bottom line is that this brave new world, at least for me, isn’t so bad.
Disclosure: Moor Insights & Strategy, like all research and analyst firms, provides or has provided research, analysis, advising and/or consulting to many high-tech companies in the industry. The author does not have any investment positions in the companies named in this article.