Another year of CES has come and gone and in retrospect, we are often asked what breaking new technology emerged or what brand-new products debuted at the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show. A recurring theme year in and out is the IoT (Internet of Things). IoT may appear to be Déjà vu year-over-year and leads many to wonder if this conceptual phenomenon will actually come to fruition. As the home appliance analyst at gap intelligence, I'm particularly interested in the IoT evolution of our homes and the products that we use on a daily basis. Last year, I wrote a brief blog that touched on the basis and creation of the Internet of Things…what is it? Are we ever going to get there or are we just talking about it? A year later, I’ve asked myself the same question…’are we there yet?’
That question takes me back in time…’are we there yet?’ My folks heard this question at least once for every 10 miles we traveled during road trips when I was a kid. Most often, the answer was ‘almost’, ‘1 more hour’, or ‘stop fighting with your brother!’. To be told ‘almost’ on a 6 hour drive felt like an eternity for a 10-year old getting beat up by her brother in the back seat of the Buick station wagon. Eventually, our family would ultimately reach our final destination, maybe with a few more bruises from a game of slug-bug or a few more gray hairs thanks to my incessant questioning…but we would get there. Our road trip along the IoT highway is much the same and when it comes to appliances, we truly are ‘almost’ there.
The awareness of smart kitchens and laundry rooms are a new(er) phase in the Internet of Things and these particular products are more accessible now than ever before. Truth be told, the evolution of smart appliances is over a decade’s worth of time in the works. According to ‘Think with Google’, there are currently 2.8 billion people online around our globe. This may seem like a staggering number, but it breaks down to just 39% of our entire global population. Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, predicted that the number of people around the world with access to the web will rise to 8 billion by the year 2020. This presents an incredible opportunity for the connected world and consumer’s interactions with their home appliances. So how do we get there?
The World's First (and most expensive!) Smart Refrigerator
Smart appliances once positioned as luxury products with the price-tag to match. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the idea of connecting home appliances to the internet was popularized and seen as the next big thing. That’s right, 17 years ago! To put this in perspective, wide-spread availability of internet arrived in the early 90’s, immediately opening the door to innovation in ways that would only be imaginable (a la Jetsons) at that time.
In June 2000, LG launched one of the world’s first internet connected refrigerators with its Internet Digital DIOS model (aka R-S73CT). The technology that fueled the DIOS model was the result of a project that launched in 1997, was staffed by a team of 55 researchers, and racked up an R&D budget cost of $49.2 million. At the time of its launch in 2000, the LG model carried a price tag of more than $20,000. The LG refrigerator featured a TFT-LCD (thin-film transistor-liquid crystal display) screen with TV functionality and Local Area Network (LAN) port. It included an LCD information window that featured an electronic pen, data memo, video messaging, and schedule management functions and provided information such as inside temperature, the freshness of stored foods, nutrition information, and recipes. Other features included a webcam that could be utilized as a scanner to track what was inside the refrigerator, a MP3 player, and a three-level automatic icemaker. In addition, the electricity consumption was half the level of conventional refrigerators with a dba level of 23. Sound familiar?
Fast forward 17 years and 17 CES tradeshows later…Meet LG’s InstaView Lineup
Debuting at CES this year, LG’s flagship refrigerator was unveiled in its enhanced InstaView model, an expansion upon its previously debuted baseline InstaView series, which launched last year and truly an evolution. The InstaView refrigerator was first introduced at CES 2016 where it was featured on three and four-door French door models. Since that time, and with its retail debut, LG expanded its InstaView lineup with an IFA showcase in support of its innovations. The recently debuted LFXC24796D features LG’s original design, which offers a built-in glass panel that allows a user to see inside of the easy access door by knocking twice on the glass. The function of the smudge-proof glass not only lends an aesthetic function, but also as an energy saving component by allowing visibility into the refrigerator without letting cold air to escape. According to the manufacturer’s website, the InstaView functionality is available on 4 baseline SKUs including the aforementioned LFXC24796D, the LFXS30796D (MSRP $4,399), the LMXS30796D (MSRP $4,599), and the LMXC23796D (MSRP $4,699). Lastly, the InstaView refrigerator is also available within LG’s Signature portfolio with its 4-door LUPXS3186N model (MSRP $8,499).
This year’s LG InstaView features an upgrade 29” integrated tablet running on LG’s SmartTV webOS 3.5 while prior generation ran on Windows 10. Additional upgraded features include smart tag functionality, panoramic built-in cameras, and SmartThinQ collaboration with Amazon’s Alexa. Alexa is integrated into LG’s InstaView models, which allows users to utilize voice commands to order groceries, check refrigerator status, and leave memos, notes, and reminders for family members. Sound familiar? The InstaView lineup features nearly the same core technological advancements that its 2000 DIOS model aimed to deliver. A 17-year evolution of smart refrigerator technology. It should also be noted that 100% of LG’s appliance lineup this year features WiFi capabilities.
The Future of Smart Appliances
We’ve seen this scenario play out in other categories before and most notably with our televisions. At one time, Smart TVs also carried a significant premium over their not quite so smart siblings, although now, I implore you to purchase a brand new TV that does not at least offer the ability to connect to your smart WiFI system. It’s my belief that appliances are on the verge of replicating this dynamic…within the next two years, you will not be able to buy a mainstream appliance that does not feature WiFi capabilities and the ability to show you how smart they really can be.
Kids, I think we’re almost there.