Image: Eirik Solheim
I have never been to the future, but I’m sure it will look like this. Encompassed entirely by a wraparound video wall, Sony’s vast exhibition space is the first I walk into at the IFA-Berlin technology show. At almost a century old, IFA is Europe’s largest technology event; it features over a thousand exhibitors, and will draw almost a quarter of a million people between September 5th and 9th.
Inside Sony’s exhibition hall, a large crowd of people are trying out the company’s Alpha cameras by taking photos amongst a newly installed garden of luscious plants. In another corner, engineers are showing a concept called Life Space UX by giving guided tours around a purpose-built studio apartment. In this flat, there is a table hiding a projector that beams whales onto the wall, bathing the entire room in deep blue. There is a light bulb with an integrated speaker which plays jazz music. We see a portable projector and the guide leads us to a pretend outside space. He asks us to envision two parents relaxing here in the evening, who are using the projector to display a video of a log-burning fire, safe in the thought that there is: “No danger. No fear. Only a romantic atmosphere.”
In a darker area of Sony’s display, I find Project Morpheus. The unit covers your eyes and analyses the fine movements of your head and body; this means you can explore virtual space as if it were the physical reality. Anticipations are high and demonstrations are limited. Though I arrive as the show opens, my allocated time is 4:40PM. This is almost seven hours away but luckily, at IFA there is always something to see.
I make my way to Samsung’s exhibit at the far end of the complex. Set within the polished concrete interior of the CityCube, Samsung has constructed a gleaming white perimeter wall. On show is a transparent OLED display – a shop window from the future, with shifting geometric patterns superimposed on top of a real dress set behind the screen.
On show was the new Samsung Gear S2 watch with a circular watch face and a surrounding bezel that you can twist to navigate the UI, making it both elegant and functional. Taking the centre of Samsung’s hall is a circular area surrounded by a thin, glowing curtain. It contains the company’s vision for the Internet of Things. Sheets of glass have text written onto them describing how everyday household devices will be improved once they are connected to the internet.
The rest of the show is comprised of halls filled with smaller companies. The drone maker Parrot is showing a new headphone range, and the headphone company Marshall is displaying its first smartphone. People in futuristic clothes are vacuuming the show floor to demonstrate LG’s new cordless vacuum cleaners. Panasonic has professional chefs using their new kitchen equipment to make food for attendees. Phillips has tables of new shavers which you can try out on the show floor, complete with working sinks and a stock of Nivea products. Written on the side of Runtastic booth is the alarming slogan “Life is short! Live long!” These sections are exhausting, and I go to the summer garden for a break.
Finally, it is time to return to the Project Morpheus demonstration zone. Underneath a low ceiling, individual try-on sections are marked out. Assistants ensure the cables for the headset don’t get tangled up and follow people trying VR like dog-walkers. A man fits the headset onto my head, and it’s surprisingly light and comfortable, then suddenly I am on a diving platform just above the surface of the ocean. As the diving stage descends, I cross fade between situations. It is dark and I am surrounded by oneirically glowing jellyfish. I can walk around to get a better look, and tilt over the metal railing to see more of the effervescent scene. Soon, a shark brushes into the platform causing the image to shake – but there is no real movement.
I look up and can see the rippling, surface when the shark attacks again. This time, the shaking is violent and completely disorienting. I’m almost glad when the demo ends.
When my headset is taken off I am almost certain I am in a different place. I stumble out of the hall, walking past Sony’s fake house with its fake garden I head out to what I assume is the real world, eyes opened to the future ahead.