Fisher & Paykel says it’s well aware of the trend toward so-called smart appliances — whiteware and the like connected to networks or the internet so that they can better carry out their core functions. F&P says it’s poised to jump into the market if it so chooses, as all its machines are electronically controlled anyway.
Any hint of caution on the part of F&P or other vendors seems sensible, as smart appliances have not sold as well as some hoped in the past year. US high-tech market research firm In-Stat/MDR says despite this disappointment, many companies remain interested in all segments of smart appliances. In-Stat reckons the market for these products is still strong and will grow from over 600,000 units in 2001 to over 9 million in 2006.
The Korean firm LG Electronics has quietly launched a fridge that’s capable of auto-inventory — telling you what’s inside, how long it’s been there and what’s running low. It also promises access via the internet, cellphone or handheld wireless device. A TV, stereo and digital camera are built in, while a digital calendar reminds you of special occasions.
If it all sounds a bit sci-fi, that’s probably what’s kept demand low, but doubters may rightly wonder how many people will salivate over such functionality in a device that hitherto has simply kept their beer cold or rinsed their crockery. Adding to the why of net-enablement is the question of how one pays for it.
Broadband penetration rates, home networking uptake, consumer education and price will have an impact on the market. The long-awaited version 6 of the internet protocol will help, greatly increasing the number of IP addresses available.
Changes around staff training and product display and distribution will need to occur at the retail level, says In-Stat.