Baking a cake with Alexa

The IFA in Berlin is a window on the future. The key trend in 2019: the smart home. Kitchens are growing ears and monsters are moving into our bathrooms.

Written by Michael Radunski
Photos by Keystone / Michael Radunski
Illustration by Priska Wenger

December 14, 2019

The smart refrigerator has become reality. Illustration by Priska Wenger
The smart refrigerator has become reality. Illustration by Priska Wenger

There is no other place in the world where so many products relating to digital life are brought together in one place as at the international consumer electronics fair in Berlin. This explains why the “Internationale Funkausstellung” (IFA) draws such huge crowds. Every autumn for the last 59 years, inquisitive visitors from all around the globe have travelled to the German capital to take a peek into the future. However, the focus has long ceased to lie solely on telecommunications and consumer electronics: the event is increasingly developing into a meeting place for enthusiasts of household appliances. This year, there is a clear trend in this field: Everything is becoming connected, everything is becoming smart. 

At the Siemens booth, for example, I learn just how important this is: “We are all familiar with the problem,” the Siemens representative says. “Your hands are sticky from kneading cake dough, or you are holding a large baking tray. But: Who will open the oven door for you?” With the new Home Connect App and a suitable household appliance, there is finally a solution to this problem, the Siemens rep explains. 

As of March 2020, the door of a Siemens oven will open in response to an Alexa voice command. However, to ensure the end result tastes good, we still require other skills.

In the future, the cookers, coffee machines, or dishwashers from other manufacturers will also be controllable using language assistants, such as Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant – be it to help us out when we have sticky hands or simply for convenience. 

A peek into the refrigerator of the future will no longer be necessary. Instead, a photo of the current contents will be sent directly to our smartphone – including information about the shelf life of the food and a list of groceries that are missing. Our smartphone might even make us aware of the following situation: On the photo of the contents of our refrigerator, a red arrow appears pointing to the bananas. The accompanying message: Bananas should not be stored in the refrigerator. The things our parents used to teach us are now covered by the smart home. However, actually taking the bananas out of the fridge is something we will still have to do ourselves.

Hunting monsters while brushing your teeth

In the future, smart solutions will also feature in our bathrooms. The Austrian manufacturer Playbrush has already sold more than 250,000 of its electric toothbrushes for children. Coupled with a game app, it turns teeth cleaning into a monster hunt. The objective: To motivate children to brush their teeth. 

With the “Playbrush Smart One”, the company now also wants adults to have more fun when brushing their teeth. With the “Who wants to be a millionaire?” version of the toothbrush, for example, users answer quiz questions by either brushing to the left or to the right. Here, the smart home requires us to be smart too! 

Wafer-thin revolution

It is one of the undisputed stars at the IFA International Consumer Electronics Fair 2019 in Berlin, and with it, LG intends to usher in a worldwide revolution. But initially, the visitors to Hall 21 are slightly taken aback, because the Korean technology group’s innovation is nowhere to be seen. Spellbound, they stare at a grey, rectangular box. Nothing happens. The first visitors are already turning away to leave, when suddenly the LG OLED TV R9 is there. 

Almost silently, the screen emerges from the box and unfolds to its full size in just a few seconds: The display measures 164 centimeters (approximately 65 inches) in full mode, and the housing acts as a 100 watt speaker system. The R in the product name stands for revolution, but could also be understood as an indication of its actual distinctive feature: The LG OLED TV R9 is the world’s first rollable TV and it is celebrating its European première at IFA 2019. 

The key feature: At just three millimeters, the OLED screen is so thin that it can be rolled up. Users can choose between three different modes: Full, line, and zero view – depending on whether they want to watch TV, just want to display weather forecasts and the time, or if the device is switched off. The LG roll-up TV is a real eye-catcher – while also being the complete opposite. This is precisely what makes it so appealing: When the TV is not in use, it simply disappears into the sleek speaker cabinet. This means that the black hole that has been a feature of our living rooms for decades could finally be a thing of the past. The OLED TV R9 is scheduled to be launched on the market in 2020 at a price in the five-figure range. 

A wall-filling screen – for 450,000 euro

A few exhibition halls away, Samsung is also looking to change the nature of television – but in the exact opposite direction: Instead of making the TV screen disappear in a box, the South Koreans are expanding the screen until it becomes a whole wall. And this is precisely what their TV innovation is called: The Wall. 

At IFA, Samsung impressively demonstrates the possibilities that have opened up thanks to self-luminous micro LED technology: The 219-inch screen – which translates into a diagonal of around 5.5 meters – consists of individual modules between which the transitions are barely visible even from up close. This means that the display can be adapted to any desired size and also sets new standards in terms of brightness, color space, color volume, and black level. However, the display also opens up new financial dimensions: The 4K luxury edition costs 450,000 euro. 

Samsung's The Wall

5G – much ado about almost nothing?

The other hot topic on many exhibitors’ booths: the new 5G cellular network standard. Initially, it will be of particular interest to business customers. The new transmission technology is expected to revolutionize industrial production: think of the Internet of Things. 

But at IFA, private consumers will also find all kinds of ideas on how to exploit the potential of 5G. 

Huawei is presenting its new Kirin 990 smartphone processor, complete with an integrated 5G modem. The Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G is also ready to take advantage of the new transmission speed. Countless visitors line up, waiting in the long queues for half an hour or more just for an opportunity to touch the new smartphone. 

When the smartphone turns into a book

Their curiosity, however, is directed less towards the phone’s 5G capability than towards another technical innovation: As its name suggests, the Galaxy Fold’s 7.3-inch display can be folded in half. When the device is folded, the user can conveniently access the most important information using one hand via the front screen. The phone can be unfolded like a book in order to accommodate applications that require a larger display,

Due to several technical issues, Samsung had to postpone the global launch that was originally scheduled for late April 2019, but now the Galaxy Fold appears to be ready for day-to-day use. During a hands-on test at IFA, the Galaxy Fold worked flawlessly: Launched on the smaller front display, a YouTube video is displayed on the full display without delay once the phone is unfolded.

Samsung is understandably proud of what it has achieved: The Galaxy Fold transcends the limits of the conventional smartphone, the company representatives on the booth proclaim. But this also applies to the price: On the German market, the Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G costs 2,149 euro.


Written by Michael Radunski
Photos by Keystone / Michael Radunski
Illustration by Priska Wenger

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