Consumption upgrade drives smart choices
China Daily


MITVs, internet-connected televisions produced by Xiaomi Corp, are displayed at an international screen technology exhibition in Shanghai on July 11. (Photo: China Daily)

Manufacturers are stepping up efforts to meet demand for high-quality, intelligent, personalized home appliances

Refrigerators that can connect to devices like ovens and ventilators and monitor the freshness of foods using QR codes are now a reality in our daily lives. Smart refrigerators can also recommend healthy recipes for family members by studying and analyzing user data.

People can control almost every home appliance in every room through voice commands and remotely using mobile devices.

With the ongoing consumption upgrade in China, consumers are showing a preference for high-quality, intelligent and personalized products. Intelligent home appliances are poised to enter a period of rapid expansion.

According to market consulting company Statista, China's smart home appliances market is expected to reach 162.7 billion yuan ($23 billion) in 2022, with an annual compound growth rate reaching 45.3 percent.

Traditional home appliance manufacturers are stepping up efforts to launch smart home appliances, such as televisions, air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines, by applying the most sophisticated artificial intelligence and internet of things technologies to innovate products.

Haier Smart Home Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Haier Group, China's largest home appliance manufacturer, has been gearing up to accelerate its smart home ecosystem strategy.

Haier's smart home solutions cover all key spaces in the home-living room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and balcony-to meet users' needs. Through its proprietary U+ platform, Haier connects the entire household into one system, and provides a user-centered IoT ecosystem.

"The core of Haier Smart Home is people. We understand the importance of user value, as the smart home is not only to connect products, but also connect people with life," said Li Huagang, vice-president and chief experience officer of Haier Group.

"In the era of 5G and IoT, what users need are not homogeneous products, but customized solutions to meet personalized lives. We are willing to introduce tailor-made services to families and enable more life inspirations," Li said.

When consumers put clothes in a Haier smart washing machine, it reads the tag of each piece of clothing, identifies the brand, material, color and style. Then by identifying the laundry detergent type, the machine uses the precise amount of detergent that's perfect for the load.

So far, Haier has developed three platforms, namely, the cloud-based platform U+ Smart Life, which offers customers integrated smart home solutions, the smart manufacturing platform COSMOPlat, which enables customized mass production, and the online platform Shunguang, which facilitates the integration of Haier's online, offline and micro-store businesses and supports user interaction to further optimize user experience.

In addition, Haier, China Mobile, and Huawei jointly launched the world's first AI+5G interconnected factory in July. The three parties will continue to deepen their cooperation to upgrade the industrial internet ecosystem, and effectively support smart manufacturing.

China's home appliance sector saw steady growth in the first half of 2019, with total revenue reaching 429.7 billion yuan, according to a report released by the China Center for Information Industry Development under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

In addition, the sales revenue of televisions, refrigerators and air conditioners stood at 63.1 billion yuan, 51.6 billion yuan and 118.9 billion yuan respectively in the first half of this year.

Midea Group, a leading home appliances maker in China, and Ali-Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, have announced they will carry out cooperation at a higher level in the field of smart home appliances.

The two parties will work together to develop tailor-made chips and an operating system platform for smart household appliances.

The smart home appliance products of Midea will be equipped with the customized chips of AliOS Things, which is a highly scalable internet of things operating system for the IoT domain under the AliOS family.

In March 2014, Alibaba and Midea inked a strategic partnership in IoT, a move that allows the traditional home appliances company to look for new growth points outside the saturated domestic market.

"Midea continuously promotes the development and technological innovation of smart home appliances, and actively participates in the establishment of international standards of such appliances," said Yu Shangfeng, general manager of Midea's IoT unit.

"China is one of the markets worldwide with the largest demand for smart appliances, but the industry faces challenges such as high R&D costs, fewer chip options and a long development cycle, and poor user experience," said Wei Wu, director of ecological cooperation of AliCloud IoT, while noting they are working on a "booster" for smart home appliance chips.

Moreover, Midea has inked a strategic partnership with Huawei in the area of smart homes. It also acquired German robotics manufacturer Kuka GA, bought more than a 50-percent stake in Israeli motion solution provider Servotronix Motion Control Ltd, and an 80-percent stake in Japanese home appliance manufacturer Toshiba Corp's white goods business.

Founded in 1968, the Foshan, Guangdong province-based company plays a leading role in areas including consumer appliances, robotics and industrial automation systems.

It is continuing to ramp up its research and development efforts to further develop its robotics and smart home appliances businesses.

Statistics from All View Cloud showed the penetration rate of intelligent TVs in China reached 92 percent in 2018, the rate for intelligent air conditioners stood at 45 percent, intelligent washing machines at 24.5 percent and intelligent refrigerators 8.7 percent.

The smart home appliance industry is now developing by leaps and bounds, due to the advancement of AI, IoT, big data and other technologies, said Zhang Yanbing, an independent home appliance analyst.

He said the sector has a promising future, considering increasing requirements for a high-quality and intelligent life.

Internet heavyweights have marched into the smart home appliance market. Chinese tech behemoth Xiaomi Corp has launched a series of smart home appliances, such as air purifiers, cleaning robots, rice cookers and smart lamps under its sub-brand Mi Ecosystem.

Honor, one of the two signature smartphone brands of Huawei, launched its first smart TV called Honor Vision in August, marking the company's official entry into the TV sector.

It is also the first electronic product that is powered by its in-house operating system HarmonyOS, as Huawei is accelerating efforts to build its own software ecosystem for the era of IoT.

Zhao Ming, president of Honor, said the company hopes to leverage its years of innovation in smartphones to reshape the role of TV in people's daily lives.

"AI technology has been a driving force to propel the growth of the smart home appliance industry," said Liang Zhenpeng, an independent consumer electronics analyst.

Liang said voice interaction has been widely applied in the smart home field, and Chinese home appliances makers are improving their technological level in this sector to make products more intelligent.