Economic review

Appliance makers driven by the smart home

2018-01-10 16:39:00 (Beijing Time)         China Daily

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Appliance makers in China have set their sights on providing "smart solutions" and expanding their market outside China.

Major brands like TCL and Hisense are displaying their Amazon Alexa-enabled products at CES 2018 this week, and Haier made the "integrated smart home" the theme of its show this year.

TCL unveiled a smart sound bar as a highlight of its lineup. The TCL Roku Smart can control Roku devices through Roku's voice assistant.

Customers can ask the sound bar to launch video even when the TV is turned off. The sound bar is expected to be available in late 2018.

Hisense also showed its own voice control assistant. The Wall-E-like gadget, called "Xiao Bai", is able to control Hisense appliances such as air-conditioners, refrigerator and stoves. So far, Xiao Bai recognizes only Chinese.

Both Hisense and Haier refrigerators enable users to check what's inside the refrigerators using smartphone apps. They also recommend recipes and allow users to shop online.

The "magic mirror", a mirror and also a screen, on display at the Hisense and Haier booths, shows a user's health information and recommends recipes as well as tips for keeping fit when the user stands on a scale connected with it.

"As the AI technologies and big data analyses develop, people's homes are going to be smarter," said Zhang Zhuo, head of the software division of Qingdao-based Hisense Smart Home Co Ltd.

Hisense has been working on a smart-home strategy for more than 10 years.

"The potential for smart home is enormous, because the needs of customers have been far from being satisfied," said Zhang.

At Haier's booth, the appliances are all connected through the refrigerator. But it has to be Haier products, or products from Haier's U+ platform, which has more than 50 Chinese brands..

So far, the smart-home appliances are limited to single brands.

The smart-home trend is an inexorable ones, but the biggest challenge is the lack of a widely recognized protocol for manufacturers, according to Guo Yihe, Haier U+ production designer.

A more vexing issue behind the protocol is the manufacturers' unwillingness to share the users' data with their counterparts.