5 Benefits of Internet Appliances
Learn how the Web is revolutionizing your kitchen and laundry room.
The omnipresent wireless/cellular Internet access is giving rise to a slew of new "connected" devices in the home. In addition to your computer and DirecTV receiver, now your refrigerator, dishwasher and washer/dryer can be hooked up to the worldwide Web, giving you remote access to features, diagnostics, calendars, news and media — all while running more efficiently. "There has been a definite influence by the Internet on appliance features," says Mike Heintz, president of University Electric. "Connectivity is affecting the way manufacturers are making these home devices." Here are a few benefits of getting connected.
Benefit 1: Diagnosing Problems
According to Heintz, one of the most beneficial features in the current lineup of connected appliances is diagnostics. "Let's say a consumer finds that the refrigerator isn't cold," poses Heintz. "It could be the compressor, evaporator, fan or thermostat. The consumer calls the factory and the factory sends a signal to the refrigerator, which in turn tells the factory that a fan is not working. They send a tech out to your house with a new fan. With one call, the product is fixed and with zero guesswork. This not only saves the homeowner valuable time, but also money as the tech only has to make one trip."
LG's latest SmartThinQ appliances ($1,399 to $3,499), for one, feature Smart Diagnosis, which tells the technicians what the problem is before they even arrive at your house. Miele also uses Wi-Fi to link your enabled appliance to the company's monitoring center. If a fault occurs, Miele's client service center is notified and they will contact you to fix the issue, a refreshing change of pace.
Benefit 2: Remote Monitoring
Aside from service and diagnostics, one of the biggest pros of a connected appliance is that you can monitor and control it from afar. How many times have you forgotten about the wash, only to find clothes reeking of mildew upon discovery? With remote monitoring, this could be a thing of the past.
Say you want to go to the grocery store after the gym, but can't remember if you have salad dressing at home. Instead of running back to check, LG's Smart Access lets you check the status of your fridge contents remotely via your iOS or Android device.
This remote functionality even extends to things like vacuum cleaners. So you didn't have time to vacuum before you picked up your in-laws from the airport? With a smartphone and Wi-Fi connection, you can remotely schedule LG's HOM-BOT ($600) to clean your home before they get there. "Internet connectivity is about features that make life easier for the homeowner," says John White, executive vice president of appliances for BrandSource. "The ability to access everything via your iPhone or Android is a convenient and growing trend."
Benefit 3: Communication Between Appliances
Internet connectivity isn't just about you communicating with your appliances, however — it's about your appliances communicating with each other. GE's CleanSpeak technology uses the Internet to send a signal from the washer to the dryer, which will then auto-select an appropriate cycle and drying time, reducing cycle time and saving money. LG's smart appliances can likewise communicate with each other. If you select a recipe on the company's smart fridge, you can send the same data to the smart oven, which will automatically heat up to the desired temperature based on the recipe. You can even control your LG washer or dryer from your TV set. "This technology is still in its infancy, but we expect to see a lot more interoperability between appliances in the future," says White.
Benefit 4: Innovative Cooking
The kitchen is one spot where you can really see Wi-Fi capabilities come to life. Samsung's RF4289HA fridge ($3,499), for example, has an 8-inch LCD screen and a slew of apps that let you access Epicurious for recipes, view pics from your Picasa page, listen to Pandora Internet radio or see the latest news from the Associated Press.
LG's new smart fridge's Smart Manager transforms the refrigerator into a food-management system. Customers can use the LCD panel or a smartphone to check what's inside without opening the door, while a Smart Manager's Freshness Tracker lets you input foods and check their expiration dates, and even recommends dishes to cook based on which ingredients are in the refrigerator. Smart shopping allows you to buy food right from the LCD when supplies run low. There is even a user-driven Health Manager that recommends recipes based on your personal BMI index.
Dacor's Discovery IQ Wall oven ($4,499) with Wi-Fi gives the chef of the house access to the Internet via a 7-inch LCD touchpanel operating on the Android platform. Select a recipe from the Dacor Discovery IQ Cooking App and when the desired cook time is reached, the oven will place the dish in warming mode until you're ready to serve it.
Look for upcoming connected products from Sub-Zero, which already has wine storage units that can be connected to your alarm system, alerting you should your vintages get above a certain temperature and are in danger of spoiling. If you have a more extensive wine collection, a higher-end option is the eSommelier ($3,995) wine inventory system that allows you to access your private cellar from an iPad running eSommelier's MyWine Web App. Even your coffee machine will be connected in the future. Qualcomm's Wi-Fi coffee machine prototype allows the user to set strength and brew time from your iPad and sends an alert to your device when your coffee is ready.
Benefit 5: Energy Monitoring
Finally, companies like GE, LG and Whirlpool are making their wares more energy efficient by monitoring energy consumption. Whirlpool's MySmart Appliances with 6th Sense Live technology show up on your mobile devices, allowing you to not only control them but to see their core energy usage. The app shows each appliance and power consumption plus costs, along with alerts for things like a clogged lint filter or an open fridge door. This connectivity will only cost about $100-$200 more per appliance, according to the company, but will pay for itself over time.
The GE Nucleus home manager uses GE's Brillion technology to interface with a smart meter for wireless home-energy monitoring that plugs into an electrical outlet. "GE has prototypes of products that work with PG&E smart meters to alert the customer at peak hours either to not run the product or run it in an energy-saving mode," says Heintz. "They will alert you when product was started and, if running already, they will power down certain parts of the product that may not be needed."