IFAThe dust has settled on the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin. The stands have been folded away, the crowds have dispersed, and the exciting new products have been packed up (see our New Products blog for the lowdown on the most exciting launches).

Now it's time to reflect on the themes of the show, and what they tell us about the state of the industry.

Well, one thing we can say is that the high-tech industry doesn't seem to be cowering from the recession. Bluster and bravado it may have been, but the show was as well manned, attended and covered as ever, and the high-end stands were just as ludicrously extravagant as last year.

IFA 09 entrance

Samsung, Panasonic and Sony were stand-outs, as might be expected. Sony darkened its area and filled it with 3D TVs, games systems and (for some reason) gifted football-jugglers. Samsung had a rotating cast of ballgown-wearing dolly-birds (with apologies to the ladies in question), not to mention floor-to-ceiling displays and mirrors on every surface. Panasonic went for the '10-foot-tall killer robot' angle.

You could also see break-dancers, BMX stuntmen, a ball-pit challenge and the popular singer Lady Gaga (oddly enough), as the various companies vied aggressively for the attention of jaded and excitement-starved journalists and civilians.

Samsung stand

'Digital Humanism': Customer focus, or sentimental fluff?

But the message coming from the keynote speakers was a quieter one.

Yoon Boo-keun, president of the display unit at Samsung, gave a speech based around a concept he called 'Digital Humanism'. IT companies need to listen to customers, he said; they need to create an emotional attachment to products. He specifically compared the ideal customer response to a high-tech product to the misty-eyed feeling you get when reading a handwritten letter from your granddaughter.

Even more shocking, the Samsung executive revealed (or rather, claimed) that the decision to add an attractive and subtle red edging to Samsung flat-panels was inspired by a dressing-down from his wife about his company's dull-looking lifestyle products. "When my wife talks, I listen," he joked.

Next page: Emotional products and listening to customers >>

Emotional responses to products also featured heavily in the speech given by Deutsche Telekom chief operating officer Hamid Akhavan, who argued compellingly that this was an aspect of product design that has been allowed to lapse. (The word "fun" even cropped up a few times in the keynote.)

But the statement of most interest to this listener was Mr Akhavan's quote that "today's utmost mark of quality is utmost simplicity". Discussing the issue of feature bloat on mobile handsets, he insisted that, contrary to popular opinion, most customers don't have a problem with heavily featured products, provided the features are implemented well. The answer, he argued, is not to reduce the number of features, but to make them simpler to use. And the Apple iPhone is the exemplar.

Hamid Akhavan keynote

Listening to customers

Steve Ballmer, most of us with an interest in technology will remember fondly, once bellowed an audience into submission by repeating the word 'developers' over and over again; it was Microsoft's version of Mr Tony Blair's "Education, education, education". This year's IFA show, in contrast, put forward the message "Customers, customers, customers".

And obviously it's in the industry's interest to say that; they're hardly going to say that the latest mobile phones have been designed to be as difficult to use as possible. But the economic downturn has forced IT companies to pander to customers' wishes with more sincerity, and substance, than previously.

It remains to be seen whether all this talk of feelings, and simplicity, and listening to customers will come to very much; certainly not whether it will outlast the current financial gloom. But it's interesting to note the mixed messages coming out of Silicon Valley, which simultaneously wants customers to think that everything is fine, and yet that it's suddenly keen to bend over backwards to help.

More clues to the future of IT will emerge at the CES show in January; stay tuned for the latest news, announcement and product launches from PC Advisor.

See also:

Lady Gaga headphones launched at IFA

Elonex iGame, at IFA show

Aiptek PenCam Trio HD, launching at IFA