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Lies, goodie bags, magic and Berlin: What we learned at IFA 2014

IFA 2014 (opens in new tab) finishes on Wednesday but the vast majority of events, announcements and launches have already taken place. As is always the case, the biggest companies – perhaps with the most to show off but certainly with the biggest budgets to blow – got down to business as early as possible, unveiling their flashy new wares long before the conference actually opened to the public.

Due to the predictable nature of tech companies, as well as the sheer number of leaks we saw over recent weeks, not a lot took us by surprise in Berlin. However, here is a breakdown of the most interesting things we learned from the show.

Read more: IFA 2014: As it happened (opens in new tab)

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Lenovo has sleeves full of tricks

I'm not going to lie, Lenovo's press conference was fairly uninspiring at the time. The Chinese tech giant – famed for its Yoga- and ThinkPad-branded lines of products – didn't exactly knock me for six. I spent time with the Vibe X2 (opens in new tab), one of two phones that were revealed there, but that too failed to get my pulse racing. It's Lenovo's flagship smartphone, but can still only be considered a mid-range handset. It's definitely positioned towards the top end of that bracket but cannot compete with the flagships of HTC, Sony, Apple, Samsung or LG.

However, having spoken with Andrew Barrow, the firm's consumer product marketing director, I was left in little doubt that this event could have just served as a small taste of far bigger things. The company is in the process of finalising a pair of huge deals right now: the acquisition of IBM's x86 server business and that of Motorola. Much of my conversation with Andrew revolved around the latter.

Motorola has gone through some really tough times of late, but it's fast getting its mojo back. Last week's Moto 360, Moto X and Moto G (opens in new tab) reveal demonstrated that perfectly. After the event, the company and its products trended on Twitter for the rest of the day, rivalled only by the death of Joan Rivers in terms of popularity. Lenovo's Motorola partnership – if the deal goes through, of course – could be a great development for both companies. They just need to ensure they strike the right balance and refrain from stifling each other.

Microsoft needs to smell the coffee

While Microsoft Devices' IFA conference was certainly one of the most enjoyable – there was non-awkward audience participation, a delicious selection of food and drink and I even got to knock a football around with famous freestyler Lassi Hurskainen (opens in new tab) – it also left me feeling quite frustrated.

Let's not beat around the bush here, I want Windows Phone to do well. I think it's a really easy-to-use, fresh-looking alternative to Android and iOS which brings a familiar feel to Windows OS-using smartphone owners. However, I can now count myself as a former Windows Phone patron. The reason is simple: the operating system's App Store is sub-standard, and very much so.

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At its conference, Microsoft, rather cockily for a company with a tiny portion of the smartphone market, boasted that its digital marketplace now features over 300,000 apps. This initially sounds quite impressive, until you realise that Apple and Google feature at least four times this number. In order for it to make real strides in the smartphone game, Microsoft needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

As things stand, Nokia's excellent hardware, coupled with a raft of really handy camera features, is still dragging sales figures along. This is simply not good enough for a company of Microsoft's size. The most worrying thing is that, having chatted with a Microsoft spokesperson at IFA, the Redmond-based company seems pretty satisfied with its current position.

Apple's losing its X-factor

It's common knowledge that Apple is a company that others love to hate. Over the last several years, that has been well-illustrated by the amount of "Why the iPhone is dead" type of articles that have been hastily knocked up by lazy, page-view hungry journalists who don't mind suffering at the hands of those infamous, incredibly irritating, Apple-obsessed fan-boys (who seriously need to get out of the house, and not straight to the local Apple Store, more). The reason that these articles tend to do so well is that Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world.

Still, it's difficult to deny that it has lost some of its old edge. With the passing of Steve Jobs in 2011, the company lost its true leader and entered a completely new era. Current CEO Tim Cook, while highly respected throughout the tech world, lacks the power and presence of Jobs. For football fans, a similar thing can be seen with Manchester United post Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite the fact that most of the personnel have stayed put, standards have slipped and the fierce old titan has lost much of its fear factor.

However, the shift cannot be entirely explained by one particular factor. The vast pool of original ideas that Jobs seemingly used to lounge next to appears to be drying out, and I'm not sure that the people left in charge quite know how to top it up again.

Apple doesn't attend any of the big technology tradeshows, preferring to maintain an aura of mystery which, when supplemented by a number of well-timed product leaks, helps build up an incredible amount of hype that eventually culminates in a major launch. The beauty of Apple's PR strategy is that everybody else tends to execute it on the company's behalf. The company was still conspicuous at IFA for its absence.

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A couple of years ago, the best way for tech companies to persuade both press and consumers that their products were the best on the market was by comparing them with Apple's own. As far as I could see, this was not the case at IFA 2014. The two major smartphone launches I attended – those of the Galaxy Note 4 and Lumia 830 – made no reference to Apple, except when Microsoft Devices slammed it and Samsung for overcharging customers.

Samsung is confident that it is the undisputed king of the phablet market, and has little reason to suspect that the rumoured 5.5in iPhone Air will threaten the Galaxy Note 4 (opens in new tab) (above). Similarly, Microsoft has a lot of faith in Cortana, and not once tried to compare it with Siri at IFA. The press in attendance simply didn't need to see a comparison – the product did the talking on its own. Maybe Apple's activities this week will help it re-establish the vast lead it once held over its rivals – a disappointing launch will not be good news.

(Still) nobody cares about curved TVs

Once again, Samsung and LG made a huge push for their curved TV offerings and once again nobody gave a damn. They might be the future but, for thousands of pounds, most of us aren't particularly interested yet.

Berlin is amazing

Despite it being high on my list of cities to visit, I had never been to Berlin before IFA 2014, and it was well worth the wait. The way in which many well-seasoned IFA-goers spoke of this conference almost had me fooled.

It was painted as a poor person's CES (in Las Vegas) or MWC (in Barcelona) - all the work without any of the glamour. To me, it was nothing of the sort. Admittedly, I spent the majority of my time out there in the gargantuan Messe conference building, which is a bit of a morale killer.

However, my time away from the conference could hardly have been more different. Great food at decent prices (Mogg & Melzer, Adonis and The Bird all come highly recommended), the best beer I've ever tasted, laid-back people, a bizarrely high concentration of ridiculously well-groomed dogs, a warehouse party done well and one truly impressive sports complex had me purring. London, please take heed.

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"No compromises" is the new smartphone buzzword - and it's always a lie

Whether it was Sony releasing the first budget waterproof smartphone in the M2 Aqua, or Microsoft and Nokia releasing their new Lumia 830 (opens in new tab) as "the world's first budget flagship", the buzzword of the phone releases was "no compromises".

It seems that as the smartphone market gets more and more saturated with high-end devices pushing the boundaries of what phone technology is capable of, the pressure is on to bring those specs down into the midrange device market. Of course, there's the subtle implication that other companies are offering compromises. Of course, the claims never seem to quite be true. Whether it's the Lumia 830 being unable to get the latest Lumia Denim update, or the M2's reduced specs compared to Sony's flagship Z-series, the midrange is all about compromises. That's why it's the midrange.

You can use magic to advertise anything

When you're clamouring for attention on a show floor, there's nothing quite like an impromptu magic show to pique delegates' curiosity. What is quite strange is when the man who just escaped from chains and padlocks starts talking about washing machines. Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

3D printing is awesome

ITProPortal got chatting to Daniel Cowen, co-founder of 3D printing pen 3Doodler. It has built pen that allows you to "draw" 3D objects in thin air - a kind of magic you have to see to believe. Daniel gave us a demo in which he drew a remarkably accurate version of the ITProPortal logo, and even a flower that could stand by itself. It was great to get our hands on the 3Doodler and try out our own artistic efforts, though they left quite a lot to be desired.

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The PC isn't dead

No matter what the naysayers have been saying for years, the PC isn't dead. Whether it's the Helix, the latest in Lenovo's ThinkPad range, or the amazing series of hybrid and 2-in-1 laptops being touted by Intel during their keynote, one thing that's for sure is that the PC is still very much alive. While many companies have fled the PC market like rats from a sinking ship, Lenovo has stuck in there, and is being steadily vindicated by falling tablet sales and rising interest in laptops and hybrids.

It's great to see a company sticking to their guns and fighting for a segment of the market they believe in. But obviously naysayers gonna naysay.

Samsung doesn't understand the goodie bag

It's always nice to get free gifts and goodies at conferences. It's one of the few perks in the life of a tech journalist, as well as conference catering. It doesn't have to be anything big: how about a USB stick or a stress ball in the shape of a cloud? What did Samsung give out? A leaflet, about Samsung. In a little goodie bag. Enough said.