CES11: Household Consumer Tech Gets Smarter

At CES, one expects to see sexy new computing devices and ever-thinner flat-panel HDTVs with the latest and greatest specs, but what about household appliances that tweet? Or refrigerators that text? Clearly, a trend is developing at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and that trend is to spread the “smart” treatment around the household.

No longer content to let smartphones and other mobile devices steal the thunder at CES, appliance makers like LG and Samsung are getting updated with features that allow them to communicate important information to their owners. Who hasn’t dreamed of  a smart refrigerator that could alert you when its water filter needed replacing? Or what about a dryer that texts you when your clothes are dry?

Personally, I’d love to see a gas range that let me know if I’ve left the burner on after making breakfast in a pre-coffee haze. It’s either that, or I’ll surely burn the house down one day.

At CES 2011, household appliance makers had devices with just these sort of capabilities on display. Withings, a french company, showcased their Wi-Fi enabled bathroom scale, which ratchets up the peer pressure by tweeting its owner’s weight as well as graphing one’s weight-loss progress via an iPhone app.

Samsung showed off its flagship Internet-enabled refrigerator which features a touchscreen located above its external ice dispenser. Running a bevy of Samsung apps, mostly re-purposed from its line of IPTV’s, consumers could look forward to streaming music to their kitchen via Pandora, jotting down shopping lists via the touchscreen as well as pulling recipes from Epicurious. Useful features and ones that are clearly appropriate for the modern kitchen.

LG took the concept one step further, showcasing their ‘Thinq’ line of smart appliances that leverage the home’s Wi-Fi network as well as smart meters to offer “eco” features, such as remotely operating appliances from a smart phone or programming them to take advantage of off-peak rates.

The new LG line includes a washer, dryer, oven, refrigerator, and even a robotic vacuum cleaner all capable of alerting their owners to any malfunction or problem. In a glimpse of things to come, LG technicians can diagnose problems remotely by logging into your appliance and scanning through its various logs.

Certainly, CES 2011 offered visitors a look of the future household, but what I really like is that the feature-sets have evolved past the notion of purely gee-whiz efforts like watching YouTube on your refrigerator, and have become more practical and useful to the average consumer.

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