We are suddenly seeing home appliances masquerading as red hot new products at CES. Why is that? Observe how Colin Angle and James Dyson are treated in Japan.
As much as I hate calling every appliance at home “smart,” LG’s advanced
hom-bot vacuum cleaner appears to have gotten measurably smarter.
example, the new robotic vacuum cleaner now uses two improved cameras
to plot out a faster and more efficient cleaning route, according to the
company. Taking several images per second, the upper and lower cameras
scan ceilings, walls and floors, even under dim lighting conditions.
This information is analyzed to generate smarter mapping. At the same
time, multiple sensors detect obstacles within a 180-degree field,
taking hundreds of surface images to help provide collision-free
Are you getting the picture here?
Well, I am.
finally realized that it’s no longer just the glamour goods--TVs,
Hi-Fi systems and Blu-ray recorders--consuming masses of
microcontrollers, sensors and other chips. Nowadays, every drab
appliance is a genuine playground (or “platform”) for the engineer who
wants to make things more intelligent than ever before.
column, I’m going to refrain from the usual “who-needs-it” retort (like
changing a washing cycle on your smartphone? Come on!), mainly because
that would take a whole new column. I’ll just confess my amazement how
far all the white goods have come; and the opportunities white goods
bring to the market.
In the back of my mind, I think I always
understood how the Energy Star movement in the United States (to lower
power consumption in appliances) drove development of a new generation
of white goods.
But beyond that, it’s important to point out that the
key is “connectivity.” There is a decidedly new trend of pairing
appliances with smartphones--for the purpose of adding more features.
Along with this comes the usual hype about the Internet of Things. But
putting all these elements into a big picture, I sense that low power,
connectivity and smartphones are a fresh impetus for the revival of home
appliances at CES.
There is, however, another reason why the
home appliance is turning into a new darling for some CE companies. Take
a look at Panasonic.
Faced with the huge challenge of bringing
Japan’s largest consumer electronics company back to profitability,
Panasonic is falling back on the company’s home appliance business,
instead of what was once a flagship TV business. In financial results
for the first six months of the current fiscal year, the only segments
where Panasonic’s sales increased were appliances and automotive
When asked about the shift of emphasis from TV to home
appliances during an interview at CES, Kazuhiro Tsuga, president of
Panasonic, said that home appliances have more promise because they’re
“standalone” products. In his definition, TV is an "infrastructure-based
product" which requires a whole host of development efforts in content,
broadcast and services before a new generation of smart TV can really
stand out. In contrast, home appliances pose a simpler, easier route to
profitability. While Panasonic is not walking away from TV anytime soon,
Tsuga holds high hopes for the future of home appliances.
push Panasonic as a household appliance brand in the global markets, now
ruled by GE, Hoover and Electrolux, might not be so easy. But if you
see how non-traditional brands like Dyson and iRobot--both little known
to regular consumers only a decade ago--have taken the market by
storm (especially in Japan), you know it can be done. The storm,
however, needs truly unique technologies, thoughtful designs and perhaps