The Falling Rise of Computers

And other stories from the 2016 IFA Global Press Conference.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
And other stories from the 2016 IFA Global Press Conference. 
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Back in April, I attended the 2016 IFA Global Press Conference (GPC) in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. It’s an annual affair by Messe Berlin, the people behind the IFA consumer electronics show that happens around September in Berlin, Germany. The IFA GPC is more of a prelude of what’s to come, where brands and analysts talk trends. Traditionally, the IFA GPC is held in Europe, but this marks the first year they’re holding it in Asia, and for good reason.

As China continues to become a major player in global consumer electronics and technology, focus on China and Asia has never been bigger. Last year, the Americanbased Consumer Electronics Show was exported into China as CES Asia, and this year, Messe Berlin followed suit by bringing the IFA concept into China. Known as CE China, the show was held in Shenzhen from the 20th-22nd April.

The major recurring theme of the year is the connected consumer and the surrounding ecosystem of wearables and the Internet of Things. What you may find interesting is the evolving definition of what a connected consumer is.

In 2003, when Intel launched their Centrino platform, it was hailed as a wireless revolution that would usher in the era of mobile connectivity with better battery life and integrated high-speed Wi-Fi for notebooks. Some will say that the true revolution began in 2007, when the Apple iPhone effectively shrunk the computer down into the size of your palm, offering communications, mobile broadband and apps in one device. The explosive rise and continued growth of smartphones since then have put the PC market on the path of continuous decline.

Every single sales or market report points to this trend toward the smaller mobile screen. GfK reports that the computing Hardware devices market in APAC (comprising desktop, notebook and tablets) saw a 14% decline collectively in 2015 compared to 2014. Smartphones on the other hand, saw a 17% increase in total units sold in 2015. Of the 23,000 different models being released through the year, Chinese brands saw at 30% increased market share.

Further insights from GfK showed that among ten Asian markets surveyed, the number of consumers who access the internet daily from a mobile device has caught up to that of computers. Comparing PC access to mobile access, Singapore polled 85% to 83%, Malaysia polled 85% to 80%, Indonesia polled 82% to 81% and Thailand polled 81% to 83%.

However, that doesn’t mean the PC market hasn’t been fighting to buck the trend, and it involves some creative product marketing. Think about the last time you walked into an electronics store or saw an ad for a PC, you’d probably have seen buzz words like convertibles, hybrids and 2-in-1s thrown about. Rarely are computers referred to as computers anymore, and according to Gerard Tan, APAC Director for Technology and Consumer Choices at GfK, this tactic may actually be working.

While global numbers are down as mentioned before, these creative categories and form factors are doing their part to drive up the hype and relevance for computers again. Sales numbers show growth in every niche PC segment in 2015 compared to 2014. Super-slim notebooks (<15mm thin and <2.3kg) increased by 20%; convertibles by 12%; computing tablets (detachable hybrids) by 13% and ultra-mobile notebooks (<12.2inch) by 10%. The micro desktop (<30cm depth/height) market grew by a surprising 44% over 2014. 

1. Dr. Christian Göke,
CEO Messe Berlin
opening speech at IFA
2016 GPC.
1. Dr. Christian Göke, CEO Messe Berlin opening speech at IFA 2016 GPC.
2. Mr. Gerard Tan, APAC
Director, GfK, on Asian
technology insights.
2. Mr. Gerard Tan, APAC Director, GfK, on Asian technology insights.
3. First CE China held in
Shenzhen, April 2016.
3. First CE China held in Shenzhen, April 2016.
4. Dr. Christian Göke
welcomes Mr. Biao
Chen, Vice Mayor of
Shenzhen Municipal
Government at
CE China opening
4. Dr. Christian Göke welcomes Mr. Biao Chen, Vice Mayor of Shenzhen Municipal Government at CE China opening ceremony.
5. The CE China
exhibition space.
5. The CE China exhibition space.

Overall, the key takeaway is that internet connected devices are dominating consumer tech spending. By the second half of 2015, smartphones, tablets, LCD TVs and notebooks accounted for 91% of all tech spending in APAC.

Up till now, the term “connected” is still mainly used to refer to having internet access, but a change is coming. Internet connectivity today can already be considered ubiquitous, even among emerging Asian countries. Apps and services have played a big role in defining a base level of connectivity since data access is an essential part of the experience. So what’s next for the connected consumer? Our devices are already connected to the cloud, we’re now looking at them being connected to each other.

Here’s where wearables and the Internet of Things start to make more sense. In the past, most connected devices are standalone devices that perform a single function with a control app so you can tinkle with a few options on your phone. Fitness trackers for example, or that Wi-Fi enabled camera with a rudimentary app that turns your smartphone into a remote shutter button. Many of the “smart” functions felt tacked on as an afterthought instead of being integral to the device. And that’s what’s changing.

As devices continue to get more connected, consumers are looking to have more control over what can be done. Smartwatches used to be glorified pagers on the wrist, but they could be a perfect remote for a smart home setup without having to carry your phone around with around the home. Activity trackers can now connect to one other or even other wellness monitors for a more comprehensive overview of your health and fitness levels.

Most technology brands are already focused on creating smart ecosystems where products can work together at some level. Apple and Samsung easily come to mind, but even lifestyle brands like Philips have their own suite of healthcare products that work and sync with each other. Outside of brand-proprietary ecosystems, there are open standards for IoT and smart home control such as ZigBee being developed.

When you look at the next generation of wireless standards such as 802.11af and 802.11ah, which focus on extreme range (possibly in kilometers) rather than speed, you’ll have a glimpse of how our future connected world will be like, not just to the internet, but to each other and everything in between.