Connected appliances

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Philippa Turrell reveals how connectivity continues to influence appliance design, as well as the functions of the future kitchen.

Over the past couple of years, consumers have become accustomed to the ability to control their home, remotely, whether it’s turning on the heating before getting home, switching on lighting or recording a TV programme. But now, consumers can also monitor and activate smart kitchen appliances using app-based technology, from checking the duration of a washing cycle to seeing if they need milk while at the supermarket. The connected kitchen appliance market is growing and developing at a rapid pace. Growth brands manager at Beko, Gino Grossi offers some statistics: “The smart appliance market is now worth £136million with value sales up by 226% in 2016, up significantly from 2015 when it was worth £42million.”

And marketing director of the freestanding division at Hoover Candy UK says it is only likely to grow, commenting: “As consumers become more familiar with Smart Home technology, which can be controlled through simple-to-use smartphone apps, and more recently with the introduction of voice activation products like Alexa and Google Home, uptake will only continue to grow and change the way we live.” Certainly that was the story from the Consumer Electronics Show, earlier this year, with Samsung, LG and Whirlpool all showcasing voice operated appliances.

Connected benefits

The uptake of smart appliances will ultimately be buoyed by those who are rarely separated from being online. Brand manager at Whirlpool Catherine Balderson points out: “The younger generation is constantly connected to the internet by way of smart phones and tablets, and the Internet of Things is continually growing.” However she also suggests: “The older, grey ground generation who can invest in the technology is looking to make their lives easier, as well as to increase their safety and security.” But for those who yearn to operate their kitchen appliances by Wi-Fi, is there any true tangible benefit for consumers or is it simply a case of because I can? Obviously manufacturers already entrenched in the space are keen to point out the differences a smart kitchen appliance can offer to a consumer. And these span operating the appliance remotely, through to tutorials to optimise use, downloading programmes to individualise and future proof the machine or self-diagnosis. Catherine Balderson of Whirlpool states the convenience of use lies in delegating tasks to the appliance: “Consumers are beginning to understand the great benefits that connected appliances bring to their everyday lives, and that by removing the possibility for human error, and delegating the choices to the appliance, greater savings on resources can be made.”

Certainly task delegation seems to be at the heart of smart cooling. Refrigeration manufacturers have worked on creating models which not only photograph but create an inventory of what’s in the refrigerator, when it needs to be used by and what needs to be purchased on the next shopping trip. Certainly that can be seen in the Samsung Family Hub and more recently Liebherr with its BluPerformance refrigeration with a SmartDevice. Divisional manager UK of LIebherr Tim Hutchinson explains how it works: “Stored groceries can be recorded and monitored by using cameras with object recognition and a voice module MIA; Media Intelligence Assistance. In this process cameras not only show images, they also recognise the individual foods inside the refrigerator. This information then flows automatically into an inventory list. This list allows the customer to see quickly and clearly what is in the refrigerator. Using the voice module they can then add additional groceries, thus creating their shopping list. Using an app, customers can also access their shopping list on the move.”

While Hoover Candy suggests self-diagnosis is a key sales driver for connectivity. Steve Macdonald of Hoover Candy UK states: “Technology that allows appliances to diagnose their own faults and notify the manufacturer, or suggest a solution, will no doubt be a huge pull for consumers. These kind of convenient time-saving, user-friendly functionalities provide consumers with a reason to consider embracing this new technology, and retailers with a great talking point when it comes to sales.”

Laundry leads

With connectivity spanning cooking, cooling and laundry appliances, is there any sector which is leading the way in technology and ultimately sales? Manufacturers suggest laundry is key. Gino Grossi of Beko states: “Washing machines are currently leading the MDA connected sector, and accounted for £108million worth of sales last year. It’s easy for consumers to see the benefits of a connected washing machine especially given that laundry is one of the most time-consuming household chores.”

Certainly Whirlpool and Hoover Candy have worked on developing connected laundry appliances. The Whirlpool 6th Sense Live washing machine and matching tumble dryer can communicate, so the washing machine can inform the dryer about the load details and it can choose the optimum drying programme. Hoover Candy introduced a washing machine as part of its Hoover Wizard range. In addition, it has launched One Touch washing machines using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to allow communication between an app and washing machine to select the optimum washing programme.

All appliances

Where laundry leads, will all appliances follow? Catherine Balderson comments: “Connectivity is now making its way into every home appliance category sectors, from washing machines to refreigeration and even coffee machines. The growth is not limited to any one product sector, but each manufacturer is taking a different first step into the field. Whirlpool began its journey with laundry, followed by a connected refrigerator.” She continues: “Whirlpool is due to extend its connected range with the launch of a dishwasher soon, while built-in cooking will be on stream in 2018”.

Linked cooking appliances have been on the market for some time, with the likes of Miele con@ctivity, Frames by Franke hoods and hobs, as well as Falmec induction hobs with its latest Link Technology between induction hob and hood. Marketing director at Franke Fiona Bowyer adds: “Hob and hood connectivity is a prime example of the user deriving a clear benefit from the technology. Our Frames range includes hoods that automatically react to changes in the hob settings to increase or decrease extraction accordingly. It’s an innovation that’s easy to use because the connectivity is built-in and the user can turn it off at the touch of a button if it’s not for them.”

While Whirlpool and Grundig have taken it one step further, developing concept smart kitchens which have the potential to become reality. These not only connect the kitchen through social media to help with recipe research and cooking tips, but also using sensors may be able to measure nutritional quality, and suggest meal ideas based on timings. In fact, Whirlpool has already announced its appliances can link to other connected appliances, so a fridge can for example ‘talk’ to a thermostat to turn down the heating.

But not all manufacturers agree connectivity is beneficial outside of the laundry sector, as Gino Grossi of Beko comments: “Being able to turn on a load from outside the home is quite obviously appealing, but in other categories the benefits are less clear for consumers.” And for extraction, sales and marketing manager of Westin Ann Onions is even more dismissive, when she comments: “Most connectivity between hoods and cookers is based on heat output and this may be the same if you are poaching an egg or griddling a steak but the fumes generated by the latter will be greater and the hood may need to be on a higher setting than the connectivity allows.” She continues: “In addition, it is recommended that the cooker hood is started 10 minutes prior to cooking to allow the air flow to start, which is not possible with connected appliances.” In fact, she goes as far to say: “Given that cooker hoods are used intermittently, it is unlikely that the industry will ever embrace connectivity as a must have.”

Cost barrier

Certainly, few would counter there is currently a barrier to the growth of connected appliances but most appliance experts believe that it is based on cost. Catherine Balderson explains: “We are talking about products that are at the top end of the market and, unsurprisingly therefore, one of the leading obstructions to smart home product sales is price, with over a third of people in a recent study quoting it as a barrier.” And Gino Grossi agrees, stating: “It all boils down to ‘Is it worth doubling the price of a product in order for someone to see how many hours their washing machine was on and how much detergent it used compared with last year?"

However, as technology continues to trickle down the market, appliance experts believe kitchen designers and retailers need to get on board with technology. In fact Steve Macdonald of Hoover Candy concludes: “We’re committed to enabling the democratisation of connected technology for the mass market and are on course with our plans for all of our products to be fully connected by the end of 2017, taking the smart kitchen from being an aspirational possibility to a genuine reality.”

Expert View

Product manager at Hoover Candy Baumatic (built-in) Daniel Dewey looks at the market for connected appliances for retailers

Initially the market wasn’t actually addressing consumers’ needs but over the last couple of years, smart technology has begun to offer real, problem-solving solutions to long-standing user problems. In the last 18 months, advancements in technology have seen some of the most hi-tech kitchen appliances to date in the UK, with a real focus on the connected home and Wi-Fi enabled kitchen appliances.

Our independent Hoover Household report 2015 found that UK consumers spend an average of 21 hours per week on their leisure time using Wi-Fi in various different forms. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that the report also revealed that 40% of consumers are interested in operating their appliances remotely via Wi-Fi.

A smart home is about offering consumers more control than ever before, providing information and functionality from wherever they are. Consumers are also interested in the connected home for the associated time saving benefits – our survey found that consumers believe they could save an average of an hour per week by controlling their appliances remotely via an app.

The arrival of smart appliances is one of the most exciting innovations in the kitchen industry in recent years and offers a whole host of sales opportunities to retailers that choose to embrace it.

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