What IFA will tell us about phablets, tablets, Android & demand for smartwatches

by Doug Drinkwater

August 28 2013

IFA is one of the world’s largest consumer electronics exhibitions and takes place in Berlin, Germany starting next week (September 6-9, though media coverage by TabTimes and others will begin sooner). TabTimes takes a look at what the show could mean for phablets, tablets and the forthcoming smartwatch war.

Tipping point for phablets?

Samsung introduced the first Galaxy Note – and as such the first phablet – back at IFA 2011 and those of you who followed the coverage may recall that there was some confusion as to what it was for.

‘Who needs a bigger smartphone’? and ‘can that really fit in my pocket’? were two questions asked and there was some debate on if it would ever capture the public’s imagination, much as there was when Apple launched the first iPad.

Two years on however and the phablet-- which is now defined in the Oxford English dictionary -- is in a very different place, as we’ll no doubt see at the German tech show.

Samsung is expected to introduce its third-generation Note at the show and there have been phablets from Huawei (Ascend Mate), Acer (Liquid S1) and Sony (Xperia XU) in recent times.

Now HTC looks set to get in the mix with the HTC One Max and there’s talk of BlackBerry (with the Z30) and Nokia doing the same. Sony is widely expected to announce the new 5-inch Honami smartphone with a stunning 20.7MP camera capable of 4K video recording at the tech exhibition.

In fact, it is testament to the phablet’s growth that some tablet vendors are now apparently worried that the form factor's growing popularity could have an adverse effect on demand for 7-inch tablets.

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Tablet innovation isn't just about screen sizes

One thing that will be interesting to watch at IFA will be the array of screen sizes, irrespective of whether a device is a smartphone, phablet, tablet or laptop.

Sure enough, there will be 10-inches tablets from Acer (with the Iconia A3), Samsung and maybe Archos too. And perhaps we’ll see a peak of Nokia’s 10-inch Windows RT tablet and Nvidia’s 7-inch entry to the tablet market.

But with phablet screen sizes rising up to a reported 5.9-inches for the HTC One Max and to 6.3-inches for the Samsung Mega, there could be a bump in tablet screen sizes too.

LG will reportedly announce an 8.3-inch LG Pad tablet at the exhibition and there’s speculation that local rival Samsung might unveil a gigantic 12-inch tablet

But size won’t be the only differentiator in an increasingly mature tablet market. There will surely be unique accessories, more partnerships between app developers and hardware manufacturers and Windows 8 designs that blur the lines between tablets and laptops.

The start of the Smartwatch era?

In addition to the  countless new smartphones, tablets, TVs and monitors, we’re expecting smartwatches to be a hive of activity at IFA 2013.

Essentially designed to be a small computer on your wrist, Samsung has announced it will unveil the Galaxy Gear smartwatch on September 4 and show it at IFA,  while LG is expected to showcase a new smartwatch as well. Market research firm Juniper Research forecasts that smartwatch shipments will rise from one million in 2013 to 38 million by 2018.

There are also indications that another new smartwatch, the Omate Truesmart, will be at the show and, with rumors that Apple plans to release an "iWatch" (though not at IFA), it's clear that this new category of device is picking up steam.

But at this point, it's largely not known what many of these devices will look like, how they will function or even how app developers begin to work on something they know very little about.

Therefore, expect IFA 2013 will be a festival of learning when it comes to smartwatches and perhaps other wearable technology that might be on display.

Opportunities for new operating systems

When it comes to app ecosystems, iOS, Android and Windows may rule the roost, but look out for the smaller players too.

Jolla, Ubuntu, Firefox and Tizen – co-developed by Samsung and Intel – will be at the event and could be in line for future growth, especially with hardware partners increasingly looking to differentiate their products.

After all, Firefox OS is now up and running and powering low-end smartphones, while Ubuntu launched its first tablet OS back in February. And with Samsung talking up Tizen smartphones and LG apparently considering Firefox for its first smartwatch, smaller software vendors might just seize their chance.

Is the Android fragmentation problem getting better?

Android continues to be plagued by fragmentation, but it will still be interesting to note if anything has changed at IFA 2013.

I say this because fragmentation is arguably getting better for the Linux-based OS. The age-old Gingerbread (Android 2.3) no longer rules by device adoption, with Jelly Bean now accounting for most devices, an impressive feat considering the first version launched only last year.

Has Google turned a corner? Only time will tell, but it will be interesting to see if new devices run Android 4.1, 4.2 or – less likely – the Android 4.3 which only launched last month.

(Keep on top of Android news, analysis and trends; subscribe to the free TabTimes for Android newsletter).

Bigger and better cameras

Hi-res displays are increasingly common on new smartphones and tablets, but are of limited use when most video content is limited to Full HD (1080p) or TV Ready (720p). Thankfully though, things are changing to allow consumers to make their own hi-res content.

For one year after 4K resolution TVs stole the year at IFA 2012, there is now a trickle of new devices with mega cameras that support the same resolution.

As one example, Nokia’s widely-publicized Bandit phablet is expected to have a 20MP rear camera, while Sony’s Honami apparently has a 20.7MP camera capable of recording 4K video.

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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