The coronavirus pandemic may still be raging in parts of the globe, but IFA 2020 will carry on, even if Europe's biggest tech trade show takes on a more scaled-back form this year.
IFA takes place at the start of September each year in Berlin, and despite COVID-19 concerns cancelling many in-person tech events, this year's edition of IFA is going forward, with appearances by a number of notable tech heavyweights such as LG, Qualcomm and Huawei.
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IFA organizers have worked with local officials in Germany, which is in the process of reopening after a coronavirus-mandated lockdown earlier this year. Attendance will be significantly capped for this year's edition of IFA — only 4,000 people are going to be allowed indoors, and it's restricted to companies and press. But IFA will be one of the few tech events to take place in person since the COVID-19 outbreak.
That said, those live sessions are still going to be live-streamed when IFA 2020 gets underway on Thursday (Sept. 3). Here's what you need to know about IFA 2020, including a schedule of major presentations and how to watch the event from the comfort of your home.
What is IFA?
IFA is short for Internationale Funkausstellung — good thing they use the abbreviation — and it's basically the CES trade show of Europe. Makers of smartphones, smart home devices, appliances, audio, laptops and other electronics descend upon IFA in Berlin each year to show off their latest products — usually with a focus on European audiences, but sometimes with more global appeal as well.
When is IFA 2020?
IFA 2020 gets underway Thursday (Sept. 3) and runs through Saturday (Sept. 5). That's a significantly truncated schedule from previous years, as IFA organizers balance their push to have an in-person event with the realities of large gatherings in the age of COVID-19.
How can I watch IFA 2020?
With restrictions in place on who can attend IFA, your best bet is to watch the press conferences on IFA's website. It's free, but you'll need to register, providing an email address, name and other information.
With IFA taking place in Berlin, the schedule is set with a European audience in mind. The Sept. 3 kick-off event for IFA 2020 starts at 9:30 a.m. CET — that's 3:30 a.m. EDT and 12:30 a.m. PDT. Qualcomm's opening keynote gets underway a half-hour later, which means an early wake-up call in the U.S. if you're planning on watching live. It's unclear if IFA's website will feature on-demand replays of keynotes to accommodate viewers in other time zones.
Who's speaking at IFA 2020?
The guest list at IFA 2020 isn't as long as in previous years, but there's still a list of notable attendees delivering presentations as part of the rebranded event's IFA Global Press Conference track. And we'd expect some product news to emerge from these company spotlights that will interest tech shoppers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Here are the highlights from the list of scheduled presenters at IFA 2020.
• Qualcomm, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. CET/4 a.m. EDT/1 a.m. PDT: It falls to Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon to open up IFA 2020, and given that chipmaker's focus on 5G, expect that to be a major topic of conversation during this press event. Qualcomm's IFA page promises a focus on "how 5G will transform the devices we love and enrich the lives of people around the world." To that end, expect Qualcomm to cover the full range of products it makes chips for — not just phones and always-on laptops, but also virtual reality headsets, cars and more.
• LG, Sept. 3 at 11:15 a.m. CET/5:15 a.m. EDT/2:15 a.m. PDT: LG is the other heavy hitter given a prime leadoff position on IFA 2020's opening day. And it'll be I.P. Park, chief technology officer of LG Electronics, providing an overview of what LG has in the works. Past LG presentations have been more about future technologies rather than specific product announcements, and LG's promise to talk about "how our life will look in the future" suggests that's what's on tap for this week's press event.
One thing LG has done in connection with IFA 2020 is set up a smart home showcase in South Korea to demonstrate how its wide range of products — everything from phones to appliances to home entertainment equipment — can work together. Apparently, virtual tours of the showroom will be available.
• TCL, Sept 3 at 1:15 p.m. CET/7:15 a.m. EDT/4:15 a.m. PDT: Like LG, TCL makes a wide range of products, and is perhaps best known for its TVs. But at recent trade shows, the company has focused on its efforts to build up its own smartphone brand after years of making and marketing phones under other companies' names. It's likely that pattern continues at IFA.
• Huawei, Sept. 3 at 2:15 p.m. CET/8:15 a.m. EDT/5:15 a.m. PDT: Huawei may have faded from the U.S. market, as the company continues to face a Trump administration-imposed ban on being able to work with U.S. companies, but the electronics giant remains a formidable presence in the rest of the world. Huawei has always made the most of its IFA spotlight, using recent events to talk up new versions of its Kirin mobile chipsets, tease its upcoming fall smartphone releases and showcase home networking equipment.
• Honor, Sept. 4 at 11:25 a.m. CET/5:25 a.m. EDT/2:25 a.m. PDT: The Huawei-owned company is best known for phones that target a younger crowd. But according to its press conference invite, Honor plans to use its IFA 2020 spotlight to branch out into new areas, showing off wearables, tablets and PCs.
• Realme, Sept 4 at 12:25 p.m. CET/6:25 a.m. EDT/3:325 a.m. PDT: Another Chinese phone maker that’s not all that well known in the U.S., Realme is expected to show off the Realme X3 Pro. This will be Realme's first IFA appearance.
• Neato Robotics, Sept. 4 at 1:25 p.m. CET/7:25 a.m. EDT/4:25 a.m. PDT: Neato is best known for its robot vacuum cleaners — in fact, a couple of its products have landed on our list of the best robot vacuums. So we'd expect more of the same during the company's IFA appearance.
What other tech events are happening around IFA 2020?
One of the highlights of past IFAs usually took place outside of the show floor, with major tech companies hosting events in advance of the trade show to show off their new products. That's obviously been scaled back with the restricted attendance for IFA 2020, but there are still some rival tech events happening during IFA week.
Samsung usually has a big IFA presence, but this year, it's going its own way. The consumer electronics giant is already hosting a Sept. 1 live stream to reveal the final details about the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the foldable phone it first teased during its August Unpacked event. The next day, Samsung is holding a second virtual event called Life Unstoppable. Given its 10 a.m. CET start time — that's 4 a.m. EDT — we'd guess this will be a pretty Euro-centric presentation. If it follows past Samsung IFA appearances, expect a lot of talk about home appliances, TVs and smart home tech.
Like Samsung, Nvidia is also holding a Sept. 1 event, starting at noon ET. This one will likely feature the graphics card maker's new Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 series — especially in light of all the leaks about the GPUs that have been circulating as of late.
Two phone makers that are usually mainstays at IFA are planning events in the weeks after this year's trade show. Motorola is hosting a Sept. 9 event where the company is expected to release the next version of its Motorola Razr foldable phone. Meanwhile, Sony — which usually hosts a big press event at IFA the day before the show opens to the public — is apparently planning a Sept. 17 event to show off a new phone, likely the Sony Xperia 5 II.
We’ll be following all the news out of Berlin and elsewhere, updating this page with the latest IFA 2020 announcements throughout the week.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.