Samsung - Smart home appliances are the future
We're on the cusp of a new wave of internet-connected, app-controlled home appliances, and Samsung is leading the way. We gaze into the crystal ball to see the future of white goods
Samsung's home appliances division goes by the name "Digital Appliances", and with good reason. The company is blazing a trail with its networked, internet-connected and smartphone app-controlled devices in Korea, and there are hints we may see some new Smart-enabled home appliances for Europe at September's IFA show in Berlin.
Samsung took us to Korea to talk about its upcoming strategy, and while the company was understandably cagey about specifics, there was plenty of time for a bit of smart technology stargazing. Given favourable market conditions and a following wind, here is the kind of smart home appliance technology you can expect to see from Samsung in the future.
SMART WASHING MACHINES
Some Samsung washing machines in the UK already have certain smart features, but they pale in comparison with what machines in countries such as the US can do and what may be on the way to Europe.
In the UK, the iOS and Android Samsung Smart Washer app is limited to the Smart Check diagnostic utility. This uses your phone's camera to scan an error pattern on the washing machine's display, which an app translates and tells you what's wrong.
In Korea and the US, you can buy Wi-Fi-connected washing machines…
However, in countries where you can buy Wi-Fi enabled washing machines, the Smart Washer app takes on a whole new lease of life. The Smart Control function can connect to your washing machine even when you're out of the house, and lets you select a cycle and set the machine going, as well as showing you how long is left on a cycle – it's perfect for setting the machine going from the office, to be done as you walk through the door. There's no word on when Wi-Fi washing will come to the UK, but we'll keep our eyes peeled at IFA.
Wi-Fi-enabled washing machines are only the beginning, though. The real future, hinted Samsung at a Product Planning meeting, was in appliances that can talk to each other. You could have a washing machine and a dryer on the same network, and the dryer would know which program the washing machine has just finished and set its drying cycle accordingly, so you can just transfer your washing across and press the start button to dry, without having to fiddle with any controls. As with the Smart Fridge (see below) the washing machine could also communicate with your TV, and pop up a message onscreen when the wash is done.
...which you can control from your smartphone
Another advantage of having washing machines which essentially have built-in computers is that you may be able to upgrade the washing machine's software in the future. Samsung hinted that this could be useful if a new type of fabric comes out which requires a new washing machine program; you'll be able to upgrade the machine's software so it will still take care of your clothes properly.
Having upgradable software raises an interesting point. According to Samsung, washing machines have a lifecycle of 15.9 years, so if Samsung was to charge for software upgrades, it would be able to make more money from a slow-moving market.
Of all the appliances we saw in Korea, the smartest of all was a Smart Fridge, which is currently only available in Korea. This made the most of its network connection, and some of its functions were very interesting indeed.
You use the touchscreen to tell the fridge what you've just put in it…
The fridge has a built-in touchscreen, and when you put produce in the cooler you use the touchscreen to enter the food into the system. The index of food is then synced to your smartphone, so you always know what food you already have when you go shopping. You can even order food straight from the touchscreen; the system is linked to a number of online shops.
...and your fridge contents are then synced to your smartphone
As well as your smartphone, the fridge even talks to your TV, so if your child leaves the door open for a couple of minutes while you're watching a film a warning message will appear.
HOME APPLIANCE SECURITY
We also heard a few ways in which home appliances can be used to improve security. The first was fitting IP cameras to normal appliances. Samsung sells an air conditioner in Korea which uses its internet connection to connect to weather services and set temperature and humidity accordingly.
Putting a webcam on your internet-connected air conditioner makes sense, from a security point of view
However, it also transmits footage from its built-in webcam over the net, so you can keep an eye on your house and cat. Seeing as air conditioners tend to sit in the corner of the living room, it's a perfect way to add some security to your home.
Another idea mooted by Samsung's product managers was that a home appliance's Wi-Fi connection could be used to keep an eye on loved ones. For example, you could log on to your grandma's fridge, and see that it hadn't been opened for a day or two, which would raise alarm bells and prompt you to go and check on her.
WHEN WILL SMART DEVICES ARRIVE?
Once you start connecting home appliances to each other and to the internet, the possibilities of what you can do start to multiply. Unfortunately, while we’re excited about Wi-Fi-enabled white goods and app control and hope to be wowed by connected devices at IFA, there's no official word on when such devices will arrive in the UK – even those that you can already buy in Korea and the US.
The problem is that appliances such as washing machines tend to be distress purchases which are only replaced when they wear out, so consumers don’t rush out and buy the latest model unless they have to. This makes it tricky to judge when to launch something as new to the market as a Wi-Fi enabled washer; according to Samsung, "the home appliance market still remains very conservative", which makes it tricky to "radically drive change in consumer behaviour overnight."
We'd certainly like to see Smart appliances in the UK, so we're hoping Samsung finds consumers are as willing as we are to accept a shift in how they use their washing machine and fridge.