| Bernd Roeder |
BERLIN (dpa) – Smartphones and mobile Internet connections dominate our lives but you wouldn’t know it from the average household appliance: the only network it connects to is the power supply.
The recent consumer electronics fair in Berlin, IFA, showcased appliances that are a bit smarter or at least less dumb, than before.
Axel Kniehl is marketing director of Germany-based high-end appliance manufacturer Miele. It’s his job to persuade consumers to buy his company’s latest Internet-linked fridges and washing machines.
The key phrases of his business spiel are Smart Home and the Internet of Things.
A Smart Home is a household where appliances are electro-nically linked to each other. Dishwashers and ovens can be controlled remotely via the Internet while homeowners are at work or on the go.
The first Internet-linked appliances appeared about 10 years ago but were largely a flop. Only now does the industry believe designs have matured sufficiently to have a chance with Joe Average consumers.
Germany’s big home appliance makers Miele, Siemens and Bosch will offer several smartphone apps at the beginning of next year for controlling their products.
“You don’t have to be at home anymore to get your household chores done,” said Roland Hagenbucher, managing director of Siemens Electronic Appliances, at IFA.
In future it will be possible to start a washing machine with your smartphone or turn on an oven to cook a meal in time for when the family arrives home. The Siemens app even tells you when your washing machine’s filter needs to be cleaned or when the dishwasher’s supply of fluids needs replenishing.
However, there is no guarantee that this new form of added value will attract consumers.
“We still have to make the big breakthrough,” says Kniehl.
Manufacturers are still in the process of distinguishing between real value for the customer and mere gadgetry.
Miele managing director Reinhard Zinkann is optimistic as to what the future will hold.
“People are slowly getting more comfortable with organising their daily lives using smartphones and tablet computers.”
The home appliance industry’s main task is to link together the different devices in a home – “no matter what they are used for and no matter who made them”. Progress is slow in that area and so far only products from Siemens and Bosch are compatible with each other.
Manufacturers are in the beginning phase of working out common standards. A few appliance makers have yet to be convinced of the need and prefer to go their own way.
Linking an oven to the internet is not yet a knockout sales argument, so appliance makers have equipped their latest products with lots of extras. Washing machines and dishwashers are faster and easier to use than ever before.
For example, by using an oven with a microwave module in it, you can cook a frozen pizza without separately defrosting it in 12 rather than 20 minutes.
Dishwashers have separate programmes for quickly cleaning glasses, which is handy during a party. Washing machines have bar-diagram displays to show how much electricity and water they are using.
On the new ovens, you can just punch in what the food is – poultry, a cake, or a pizza, for example – and the device will recommend a suitable temperature and tell you how long it will take to cook a meal. Of course you still have to clean and chop vegetables yourself, and load the slimy plates into the dishwasher afterwards. Appliances can’t relieve you of those chores.
Nor can you yet dial up your fridge from the supermarket and see the milk’s use-by date or the brown spots on the lettuce via a smartphone video-link.
But rest assured, the new apps do have one advantage: it’s easy to find the service number of the appliance’s maker in case it breaks down.