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Gadgets from Europe’s big tech show you can’t get in the US

IFA is Europe’s biggest tech show.

BERLIN—Overseas gadget shows like IFA here and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona sometimes give US visitors a glimpse at tech gadgets they won’t be able to buy at home anytime soon.

Often, the blame for that often falls on a recurring quirk of US technology markets: The companies that sell us telecom services control the hardware we need to use those services. See, for instance, the wireless industry and the subscription-TV business. But sometimes, an overseas manufacturer may just not be that into you.

Consider these three examples from this year’s IFA exhibits and introductions in the areas of TV, smartphones and smart homes.

TVkey

The TVkey frees European consumers from the cable box. Credit: Rob Pegoraro

A single flat-panel television in Samsung’s space touted a feature that offered no upgrade to picture or sound quality—but promises to curb remote-control pollution. TVkey, developed by Samsung and the Swiss firm Nagra, uses a USB key plugged into a TV to authorize and secure a video subscription, in the process freeing viewers from having to keep a cable or satellite box and its remote.

Note that European viewers already benefit from established standards for box-free reception of pay TV. Somehow, the market for subscription TV has remained healthy there while US subscribers have sat through decades of mostly fruitless industry thumb-wrestling over proposed standards.

The concept isn’t too different from the CableCard you would plug into a TiVo (TIVO) digital video recorder. But where CableCards require a special slot and a setup process that demands a cable service’s active cooperation, TVkey relies on a connection already present on most smart TVs and allows customers to sign up for service via the web or an app.

It does require additional hardware in a TV to comply with Hollywood-mandated “digital rights management” viewing restrictions enforced by the TVkey. Nagra’s press release says cable operators “on two continents” will debut TVkey next year, but North America doesn’t seem to be among them:  Neither the National Cable & Telecommunications Association nor Comcast had anything to say about this effort.

So US viewers will have to hope that cable and satellite firms deliver on their recent pledge to ship free apps for smart TVs and streaming players like Roku boxes.

Huawei Nova and Nova Pro

The flurry about the introduction Thursday of these two promising Android phones made it easy to overlook the absence of one key feature for US users: a price in dollars.

We know that in Europe, the 5-inch Nova and the 5.5-inch Nova Plus will sell for prices starting at €399 and €429. That’s not bad at all, considering that both phones include such non-budget features as 32 GB of storage and fingerprint sensors for quick, secure unlocking of the phone.

But Huawei has had a rough record of getting US carriers interested in its phones even as American politicians have questioned the Chinese firm’s trustworthiness. That’s left Huawei stuck with the far smaller market of phones sold directly to customers. That’s how I think most people should buy their phones, but carrier phone-financing plans make it awfully easy to let them stay in charge of the hardware market.

As a result, the overwhelming majority of Huawei’s business lies outside the US. As PCMag.com lead mobile analyst Sascha Segan tweeted during the company’s event: “Huawei shipped 60 million phones last year – almost none in the US. It’s crazy how the US/global markets split there.”

BSH’s Mykie kitchen assistant

The Mykie kitchen assistant can't help you cook if you're in the US. Credit: Rob Pegoraro

This prototype assistant from the parent company of Bosch and Siemens aims to provide personalized kitchen help. With a glowing circle atop a cylindrical base, it could be the offspring of an Amazon Echo and the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Mykie (pronounced like “Mikey”) knows your schedule and contacts and, via its link to Bosch’s Home Connect system, the state of your appliances and even the contents of your fridge.

So it can suggest dishes for you to make for a friend’s upcoming birthday, order ingredients if necessary, and then display a recipe on a nearby wall using a projector hidden in its base. As Mykie only speaks German at the moment, I can’t report on how well it understood human input or talked back; “Ich bin Mykie” was about the only part I recognized.

But its synthesized voice did sound immensely calm and reassuring. Were I flailing away with a soufflé, I would want a voice like that talking me through the procedure.

Also comforting, for those of you who think of the Echo as an NSA surveillance device: This thing would be subject to the European Union’s strict privacy rules.

This being a protoype, even European customers may never see it. But since Home Connect isn’t supported in the US. at all, American kitchen geeks have even less of a chance of this culinary droid coaching them through dinner.

Disclosure: IFA’s organizers are covering most of my travel expenses and those of a group of U.S. journalists and analysts.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.