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Made in Germany, with Loewe!

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In the world of TV brands, Loewe holds a special place in many German hearts. I remember the pride my taxi driver showed when she told me in Munich recently that her latest TV was a Loewe. Unlike the French and most other continental Europeans, Brits probably find this hard to understand. Ever since the Thatcher years there’s been no looking back, anything made in a factory has had to be competitive enough to conquer the world or go away quickly and as quietly as possible; no point fighting a loosing battle we were told.

Well, maybe things are changing. After the current “Designed in California” campaign, Apple will probably soon be marketing “made in America” almost as a motto.

But without scale, German quality alone won’t suffice for Loewe to compete with juggernauts like Samsung or Apple. There can only be one way forward for the Loewe brand to remain high-end: innovate even more and even faster.

I wanted to find out how Loewe might find its place in the connected home. IFA, Europe’s version of CES, is where they’re bound to show it, but I’m an impatient geek.

So I found myself back in Munich in the labs of a 20 person embedded software company that many of you won’t have heard of although they’ve built a solid reputation over the last 20 years. They showed me a sneak preview of the companion screen app that Loewe will be demo’ing for the first time in a few days. It impressed me with some cool features like for example the ability to stream content, recorded on the TV, to the iPad or to stream a separate live TV channel to an iOS devices, in both cases without resorting to the cloud.

The technology is provided by Tara Systems who are head quartered in Munich. You can see their description of their Loewe project here.

I was shown a demo on an SL 220, multi-tuner Loewe TV. As I breezed through a complete latest generation TV interface, the UI showed some 3D animations that looked like they were being generated by CPU/GPU combo of a PC. Yet when I asked, it was a dual ST40 CPU @ 450 MHz running on the TV’s motherboard (ok that’s pretty powerful stuff, but still the UI animation was stunning). So the first positive impression I got was of the efficiency of the code generated by EmWi or Embedded Wizard, the internal tool used by Tara systems to generate the User Interface source code.

Figure 1: Loewe’ upcoming iPad App, by Tara Systems

The UI that was shown to me on an iPad had an identical look & feel with just a few ergonomic adaptations required for the different device.

I used the iPad app to access recorded PVR content from the TV’s hard disk drive. The content was streamed off the home network.

Having a single look & feel on the TV and iPad was nice but what was unique was the way EmWi let Tara Systems manage a Single software tree for all target devices. It is a clear case of “write once, deploy many”.

Beyond ergonomics there were some other differences between the interfaces. Tara Systems for example provided Internet browsing on the connected TV, but of course not on iOS, which has it’s own browser(s).

The high-end Loewe TV on show had two tuners and I was able to watch a separate channel on the iPad as the one being displayed on the main TV. As with the PVR example above, streaming occurs locally over the home network. This sits well with the quality you’d expect from a “made in Germany” TV and offers a potentially huge differentiator to most other second screen streaming solutions that are cloud-based and therefore prone to quality issues for anybody wanting to watch live HD content on the second screen and that doesn’t have a great fibre connection.

The last feature I saw was EmWi’s emulation environment. It meant I could play with UI design and test it out on the PC without needing to go through the complex recompile and iOS test, at least for core functionality. That reminded me of Motorola acquired Dreampark TV who used to show off WYSIWYG TV. The idea was to get the marketing department into the room with developers and iterate on the fly.

If today’s consumer electronics market can indeed be made to support a small “made in Germany”, quality-focussed, high-end brand like Loewe, then this second screen app is an excellent example of how to go about it, innovating to deliver streams locally with guaranteed quality.

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