The thing that makes IFA a hard show to cover is also its best feature p9030773

Today concludes my fourth IFA. Or maybe my fifth. These tech conferences tend to blend together after a while.

The first time I attended the show, I hadn’t really heard of the thing, to be honest. Even this year, a number of my colleagues still hadn’t. In the U.S., IFA hasn’t risen to the ranks of a CES or even an MWC, somehow.

It has, however, become of show of increasing international import.

The first year I attended, Samsung launched the Galaxy Note, and in doing so caused the industry to completely reconsider screen size, a game changer in the smartphone space. That phone was 5.3 inches. It seemed unwieldy and excessive and destined to become a niche device. At this year’s show, ZTE launched a 5.2 inch device. It named the thing “Mini.”

IFA’s success as a truly international show can be linked, in part, to timing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  The thing that makes IFA a hard show to cover is also its best feature p9030746

The late-August/early-September date makes the show an ideal forum for holiday-focused launches, both in Europe and internationally. And while it hasn’t yet matched CES in terms of sheer number of high profile product launches, a number of big companies happily used IFA to announce key products, like Samsung’s Gear S2, Lenovo’s Yoga Book and a pair of new Xperia handsets from Sony.

Timing isn’t everything. While IFA lacks Stateside name recognition today, attendance numbers are huge. Earlier this year, CES boasted record-breaking attendance of 170,000. Last year, IFA’s visitors numbered 245,000, by the company’s count. It’s a big show – with one key feature that differentiates it from events like CES: it’s open to the public. 

As a cab driver told me last night, as we approached the historic Victory column monument flanked on all sides by promotional flags, “I don’t understand why they advertise. Everyone in the city knows about IFA.”

From a professional perspective, IFA and other big events are ultimately something I’ve come to dread as much as I enjoy them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  The thing that makes IFA a hard show to cover is also its best feature p9010182

At IFA, Friday is traditionally press and industry day on the show floor. Saturday, the floodgates open. Suddenly the halls are clogged with families and individuals gawking at the spectacle. IFA landmarks like LG’s “display tunnel,” 216 55-inch curved screens that alternate between blue whales and the cosmos, becomes an obstacle standing between you and the next story.

It’s a similar sort of anxiety as the kind that washes over me in the halls of the San Diego Convention Center during Comic Con, which claimed 130,000 in attendance people last year, albeit without all of the walkway-clogging cosplay.

But the claustrophobically-packed halls are also a reminder that most people aren’t here for their health or out of obligation. They stand in long lines and pay a fee of €17 per person, per day because technology is exciting and sexy. Technology is unifying, it’s popular culture. It’s a common language among visitors from nearly every part of the globe. They want to look at every phone and touch every tablet and try out that crazy new VR bungee jumping demo at Samsung’s booth.

You don’t really get that at a show like CES, where we’re all there as professionals. It’s something I’m going to try to do be more mindful of, the next time I feel the anxiety that comes with business travel and conference-level work loads ahead of the next big show. Until then, however, I’ve got, like, five more stories to write.