Whirlpool: Are these the appliances of your dreams?
Imagine a world where your stove identifies and cooks your food for you. Whirlpool is making it a reality.
Imagine a kitchen that recognizes food you put on the counter and then cooks it for you. When your daughter is running late for school, your kitchen alerts you and suggests a healthy on-the-go breakfast option. When you leave a dirty dish in the sink, your kitchen washes it for you. Whirlpool plans to make this “Kitchen of the Future” a reality. (1)
Whirlpool, which I’ve written about in a previous post, is the world’s largest appliance manufacturer. At nearly 100,000 employees, the company makes brands including Whirlpool, Maytag, and KitchenAid (2). In April 2013, Whirlpool introduced its first iteration of cloud-connected washers/dryers, joining a host of companies contributing to the Internet of Things (IoT). (3) IoT is a system where ordinary objects and devices are connected to the internet. One example is Nest, the popular cloud-connected thermostat that was acquired by Google. IoT isn’t just a fad, it’s estimated that 6.4 billion connected things are in use worldwide, an increase of 30% over last year. (4)
By the end of this year, Whirlpool will offer an expanded suite of smart products including a refrigerator, dishwasher, and range. (5) The accompanying Whirlpool app texts customers when their laundry is ready, sends alerts when detergent is running low, monitors and records energy use, and allows customers to turn on the wash from afar, and integrates with Amazon Dash and Nest. (6)
A washer in Whirlpool’s line of smart appliances
Earlier this year, Whirlpool announced a partnership with IBM Watson to find ways to harness the data it collects from its IoT appliances. According to a promotional video, “today Whirlpool can analyze IoT Sensor data from connected appliances on the IBM Cloud so they can continuously learn how customers are using their products and how the machines respond. Harnessing data to make great products better, that’s what the IBM cloud is built for.” (7) Whirlpool is using data gathered from its smart appliances to improve its operating model. (9)
A screenshot from the Whirlpool app displaying key metrics on each connected household appliance (7)
Not everyone is so quick to jump on the IoT bandwagon. A headline in The Atlantic begins: “Smart devices turn every industry into the computer industry, and dupe consumers into thinking their lives are better for it in the process.” (8) Does everything really need to be cloud-connected? Even Whirlpool executives aren’t so sure. In 2014, a year and a half after Whirlpool first launched a smart washer/dryer, adoption had been slow according to Chris Quatrochi, global director of user experience and connectivity. “Trying to understand exactly the value proposition that you provide to the consumer,” he said, “has been a little bit of a challenge.” (10)
While Whirlpool hasn’t released sales figures for smart devices specifically, it’s no surprise that consumers aren’t jumping at the chance to pay a significant premium for a cloud-connected washer. In fact, Whirlpool’s app has a sub-par 2.5 star rating in The Apple App Store (11). Is a mobile push alert really better than a loud buzzer when your laundry is done? It seems that consumers aren’t quite convinced.
With the current features available, it’s not clear whether consumers or Whirlpool (via the data it collects) is benefiting more from the smart devices. There is certainly room for innovation in appliances, current models just may not be there yet.
Whirlpool has continued to push the envelope of what’s possible. At CES 2016, Whirlpool displayed its Interactive Kitchen of the Future 3.0 concept which “…is designed to learn your likes and routines and assist you with it all.”
The interactive backsplash suggests recipes based on which ingredients you have in stock. A smart range identifies the food you put on the stovetop and cooks it for you. An in-sink dishwasher automatically starts washing your dirty dishes when you leave the room. (1) Mass availability of these concepts may be years away, but Whirlpool is making strides with a recently-announced partnership with Innit, a start-up focused on connected food. (12)
A model of the Whirlpool Kitchen of the Future 3.0 with interactive backsplash
In the meantime, Whirlpool can take incremental steps to improve consumer experience. Although there is no definitive data, several review articles report issues with the app’s reliability. Whirlpool should also increase compatibility with other IoT devices/ecosystems. Most of its competitors (including GE) feature compatibility with Amazon Echo, for example. GE is also focused on the interconnectedness of its devices, encouraging consumers to purchase all appliances from one company. Although there is some indication that Whirlpool is headed in this direction, it should get there soon. Finally, Whirlpool should focus on security of device data. Security is an unaddressed problem in IoT generally, and it’s an increasing concern for consumers. (796 words)
- 2016. Whirlpool CES 2016 | Kitchen and Laundry Innovations at CES. [ONLINE] Available at: http://ces.whirlpool.com/. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- Our Company | Whirlpool Corporation. 2016. Our Company | Whirlpool Corporation. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.whirlpoolcorp.com/our-company/. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- Whirlpool Corporation. 2013. Whirlpool Corporation Reaffirms Commitment to Smart Home Solutions (NYSE:WHR). [ONLINE] Available at: http://investors.whirlpoolcorp.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=759998. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- 2016. Gartner Says 6.4 Billion Connected “Things” Will Be in Use in 2016, Up 30 Percent From 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3165317. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- com Refrigerators. 2016. This is Whirlpool’s 2016 Smart Connected Home Appliance Lineup – Reviewed.com Refrigerators . [ONLINE] Available at: http://refrigerators.reviewed.com/features/this-is-whirlpools-2016-home-appliance-lineup. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- Whirlpool Corporation. 2016. Smart Appliances Featuring Smart Home Technology Whirlpool | Refrigeration, Cooking, Dishwashers & Laundry Appliances. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.whirlpool.com/smart-appliances/. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- Advertising Age. 2016. IBM Wants You to Know AI Is Not Futuristic — It’s Here Now | BtoB – AdAge. [ONLINE] Available at: http://adage.com/article/btob/ibm-ai-futuristic/305620/. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- The Atlantic. 2016. The Internet of Things You Don’t Really Need – The Atlantic. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/06/the-internet-of-things-you-dont-really-need/396485/. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- Clint Boulton. 2016. Whirlpool CIO tackles ERP overhaul and IoT-powered appliances | CIO. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.cio.com/article/3039093/internet-of-things/whirlpool-cio-tackles-erp-overhaul-and-iot-powered-appliances.html. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- Washington Post. 2016. Whirlpool’s “Internet of Things” problem: No one really wants a “smart” washing machine – The Washington Post. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2014/10/28/whirlpools-internet-of-things-problem-no-one-really-wants-a-smart-washing-machine/. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- App Store. 2016. Whirlpool on the App Store. [ONLINE] Available at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/whirlpool/id1011622189?ls=1&mt=8. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
- 2016. Whirlpool First to Integrate Innit Smart Kitchen Platform. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelwolf/2016/06/16/whirlpool-first-to-integrate-innit-smart-kitchen-platform/. [Accessed 15 November 2016].
Student comments on Whirlpool: Are these the appliances of your dreams?
Unlike the Atlantic article, I strongly believe this kind of automation makes sense for everyone in the future — particularly because these are very simple and mundane tasks. If I was Whirlpool, I would even consider offering these cloud services for free. I think the data collection component could end up being quite valuable to them in a number of ways – not only to boost performance of their products, but to also become more informed about customer habits and related purchases like dishwasher/laundry detergent, food used on the stovetop, etc.
Smart appliances have the potential to improve our lives, but the current suite of products do not enable increased convenience. Until these appliances are able to operate autonomously without human interaction (load the laundry, etc.), demand for these products will be limited. Another issue to consider is the safety of running appliance with no person present to monitor them. The idea of remotely preheating the oven seems like an unsafe act until the appliances have their own fire suppression systems built in.
 John Sciacca. “What to do when the stove talks back (and other problems with smart appliances.” http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/get-ready-to-talk-to-your-refrigerator-and-your-washing-machine-dish-washer-and-garage-door-too/ Accessed November 20, 2016.
Having followed the top highlights from CES 2016, I must admit Whirlpool’s Kitchen of the future was definitely one that sparked my interest. Who wouldn’t want to have the amazing features that have been envisioned by the firm. I agree with your suggestion that they need to increase compatibility with existing IoT ecosystems, as I don’t believe this is a market where first movers will necessarily win – but getting strong and perhaps exclusive partnerships with IoT partners is probably going to be a key differentiator.
The other element that worries me is the cost of these innovations. What % of the average population will be able to afford Kitchen of the future when it launches? What steps are required to scale this into a more affordable and accessible product. I don’t know the answers, but I hope Whirlpool is asking themselves these hard questions.
I struggle to see what the IoT data will tell Whirlpool about consumer preferences that is not already known. These types of appliances have been around for years and I would imagine that customer preferences are already well known. One area that I think the Nest thermostat shows a clear advantage from being cloud connected over Whirlpool’s appliances is in energy savings. According to their website “on average the Nest Thermostat saved 10-12% on heating and 15% on cooling. Based on typical energy costs, we’ve estimated average savings of $131 to $145 a year.” Whirlpool should focus on ways to make its cloud connected appliances capable of learning how to reduce energy usage which will make them more appealing to consumers that want to save money and live more sustainable lives.
I definitely agree with you on your point about Whirlpool increasing its focus on security. Increasingly connected devices are currently at the mercy of hackers and there have been recent reported incidences of hacking through IoT devices (see one example in this article: http://www.npr.org/2016/10/22/498954197/internet-outage-update-internet-of-things-hacking-attack-led-to-outage-of-popula)
One general concern I have about products that leverage IoT, and technology in general, is that it could potentially lead to the human race becoming dumber. I read this article a couple of years ago highlighting ways the internet/tech is potentially messing up our brains: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/25/technology-intelligence_n_5617181.html
For example, us relying on GPS can prove dangerous if we ever find ourselves without access to the technology and need to find our way.
Overall, great post! It also brings back memories from my Disney Channel Original Movie days, especially watching the movie Smart House. One question that popped in my head since watching the aforementioned movie is related to the level of control consumers would have, especially in case of system failure or generally what happens when things go awry? Will it be possible for machines to turn against us and we become colonized by machines in the future? 😉
Sounds like my dream house! But I think the biggest challenge is that consumers don’t necessarily have the same brand across all the appliances, while the Whirlpool app works best when they’re all Whirlpool products. Same for GE. It would function better if a third party comes into play and connects all the appliances, but then again, the integration between the hardware and software might not be as smooth. Still, in the long run, I think it should be third party app/product, because IoT won’t necessarily be able to convince consumers to buy the same brand across all appliances. Certain brands build certain appliances better than others, so there’s a less chance of consumers landing on the same brand for everything.
As the author points out, connectivity is only worthwhile if that connectivity allows consumers something to do with it. As it stands, many of the features of smart appliances seem trivial or marginally helpful. Because of that, I applaud Whirlpool for dreaming big and trying to imagine an entire ‘kitchen of the future’. There is likely going to be a smart-home revolution (According to a Nielsen survey, 45% of renovations in 2015 included at least one smart home appliance) but that revolution is likely to be marked by slow adoption. One reason is, as several of the responses have pointed out, compatibility with some sort of centralized smart-home system is a must for IoT devices. Before there is widespread adoption of these centralized systems (i.e. Amazon Echo or Google Home), I wonder if consumers will really want to adopt many smart appliances from different manufacturers. After all, who wants to have to manage 10 different apps at the same time?
As much I would love to have a kitchen that caters and cooks to my preference, I am very skeptical of where connected home is going and concerned of the impending security risks. At the CES conference almost 2 years ago, connected home was all the commotion, but I remembered one of the keynote speakers, Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, spoke on the need for start ups and entrepreneurs to take security seriously. Many people are often shocked at the kind of information that a home appliance can divulge. You might not think hijacking a smart thermostat like Nest can be any valuable, but a connected thermostat collects information on who is in the house, what their schedules are, when they are asleep / awake, and can ultimately lead to significant security risk if not properly managed. Before we jump on the bandwagon to celebrate the digital age, it’s critical to ensure that we have our back door covered.
You can read more on Ramirez speech and the related security risk of connected home here:
These new features sound fantastic – while the Atlantic article criticizes the trend, I think there’s real value here in knowing the exact temperature my coffee should be, when the dryer is finished and if someone leaves the fridge open (a common thing in large families like mine!) which I’d imagine the temperature change should hint at. A consideration I had was the integration of all these platforms and how the crux of these capabilities depends on data sharing across individual companies. Whirlpool will need to partner with Apple, Google and others to ensure that these features are seamless. But this in itself poses a challenge as two MIT professors point out in their recent paper. You can read here: http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/data-sharing-and-analytics-drive-success-with-internet-of-things/