“I think people are looking for more simplicity in their lives: how to reduce time, how to save time, how to make things easier”

A smart day in the life

European appliances look to make living easier


Text by Yung-Hsiang Kao

Imagine waking up in a world where everything is done for you, from chores to food preparation, all at the touch of a button or a spoken command. It may sound like something out of The Jetsons, the American cartoon set in the 2060s, but this future of smart home appliances is coming out of the realm of cartoons and becoming a reality.

European appliance manufacturers are making use of apps, connectivity and other technology to push the idea of a smart home life. Many of these innovations are already available in Europe and have begun making their way to Japan. So, what would a day with smart appliances look like?

Wake up at 6:30a.m. and, at exactly the same time, your cup of Nespresso coffee has just finished brewing, ready to give you that perfect start to your day. This is possible with the company’s connected machines: the first was the Prodigio, which debuted in Japan in April 2016, and was followed in September 2017 by the Expert, which has more advanced functions.

By downloading an app and linking your smartphone to the machine, not only can you set a timer, but you can customise the temperature, the amount of coffee down to the millilitre, and the style, such as Americano. The machine lets the app know the hardness of the water, when it needs to be descaled and how many coffee capsules you have left. The app also allows you to order capsules.

“Just to make an application because it’s now very in vogue to have connectivity, I think that wouldn’t make much sense,” says Alexander Schoenegger, president and representative director of Nestlé Nespresso KK. “I think it’s really about understanding the consumer and how we are adding value based on their needs.”

After coffee, load your Miele laundry machine before heading out to work. If you live in a smart home with solar power, the machine can operate during the peak period of energy supply. From the office, you can monitor the activity of your laundry machine with a smartphone app. Miele & Cie. KG, the German home and office products maker, plans to introduce such smart appliances to Japan, but not before 2019.

“The main reason is we have to adjust our appliances and systems to the Japanese IT infrastructure,” said a spokesperson for the firm.

Miele has a vision of using technology to assist in many aspects of daily life, including cooking.

“One example is an assistance system for cooking which facilitates the whole cooking process, such as sensors and/or cameras to prevent milk from boiling over on the hob, a virtual cook that gives you advice when preparing difficult dishes, or a system that creates recipes according to your personal diet,” the Miele spokesperson explains.

Tired after a long day at work, you pick up the kids and go home. You want to serve a healthy, home-cooked meal, but aren’t really feeling up to the task. T-fal, a brand of Groupe SEB, has helped in the kitchen for more than six decades, and has released a time-saving electric appliance called Cook4me. After you prepare the ingredients and toss them into the machine, as its name suggests, Cook4me does all the frying, stewing, steam cooking or pressure cooking, in line with its pre-programmed recipes.

“Because it’s smart, the electric appliance does all the work for you,” says Andrew Bubala, representative director of Groupe SEB Japan Co., Ltd. “You don’t have to worry about when to release the steam, for example.”

Cook4me was launched nationally in Japan in September 2016, and the Cook4me Express, with 150 built-in recipes, debuted last autumn. A model sold in the European market has connectivity functions that allow users to download recipes to their smartphones and send them to the machine. The Cook4me series has been a major hit, especially in France where it originated.

“At some point last year, we celebrated the fact that — in the five years it’s been available in France — we’ve sold over one million units,” Bubala says. “In fact, last year it was the number one selling appliance of all brands in France.”

T-fal’s appliances are smart in the traditional sense rather than in the AI-driven sense.

“We tend to define smart as something new or innovative that really helps your cooking or daily household needs,” Bubala says, citing T-fal’s electric kettles and garment steamers as other such appliances. “I think people are looking for more simplicity in their lives: how to reduce time, how to save time, how to make things easier.”

You have guests coming over soon, and you forgot to vacuum. Not to worry. The robotic vacuum cleaner is another smart appliance that combines technology, convenience and simplicity.

Electrolux unveiled a prototype robotic vacuum cleaner in the late 1990s, launching it commercially in 2001. Called the Trilobite, it was round and moved randomly, much like many robotic vacuum cleaners available today from other makers. But late last year in Europe, and in March this year in Japan, Electrolux introduced the Pure i9, a triangular machine that cleans smartly with “an eye that works like a human’s,” according to Noriko Ashida, product marketing manager of Electrolux (Japan) Ltd.

“Most of the simple models available move in a random way, bumping into a wall then moving in another direction,” she says. “Pure i9 first rotates in place to map the room, then moves intelligently, able to see low-lying objects and clean around them.”

The Pure i9 also recognises differences in elevation so it doesn’t drive itself off edges and can easily go from floor to carpet and vice versa. It also has connectivity features through an app.

“About half of the consumers use the smartphone capabilities, mostly to schedule it to operate from afar and to check where the Pure i9 cleaned,” Ashida says.

After another busy day, you can get into bed knowing that tomorrow is going to be a little easier. 

“I think it’s really about understanding the consumer and how we are adding value based on their needs”