Miele: Connected appliances shouldn't be about gimmicks, but making life easier
Connected appliances are becoming increasingly popular, with both Samsung and LG moving into the territory of being able to control your washing machine from your smartphone. But how useful will this technology actually be?
We sat down with Dr Miele and Dr Zinkann, managing directors of Miele - the brand that lays claim to developing the first dishwasher in 1929 - to see what their approach is to smart appliances and whether they can see it taking off.
Miele has just launched a new range of washing machines and tumble dryers, the W1 and T1, but smartphone control was not a feature that was included. But that doesn't mean it isn't thinking about connectivity.
"To be the premium brand in our field of business then we have to be forever better in terms of technology. We have to be forerunners," says Zinkann. "The idea is not to think simply of electronic gimmicks, but for us it is how to make life easier and how to get more out of the product."
Using connectivity to save money
Rather than introducing the ability to turn your washing machine on from your smartphone, Miele wants you to consider other advantages of connectivity for a wider benefit such as saving energy.
It all sounds very serious, and perhaps not as fun as being able to text message your appliances as LG offers, but if it saves you money then that's always a bonus.
"Just starting your appliance, whether it is dishwasher or washing machine, doesn't really make sense because you have load it manually. That is a basic function but I don't think it is something people will pay for," says Dr Miele.
"If you look at the whole concept of the house and energy saving, people are really into that in Germany."
Dr Miele explained the company's Smart Start technology is currently in operation in Germany, whereby the washing machine, dishwasher and tumble dryer are connected to a controller within the house.
That means you select the time you want the load to finish and the Smart Start technology will work out what time to start, based on the lowest energy price, to save you money.
Functions that benefit you
Miele also has a remote service in place in the US, where the appliance is connected to your Wi-Fi network and fault codes are sent to its head quarters. Someone will then call you to let you know if you have left your fridge door open, for example.
"Our engineers have some great ideas, but it is a question of whether it works with the normal consumer or not and especially with smartphones and connectivity," explains Dr Miele.
"There are lots of possibilities of what you can do and how you can do it. We have seen a big success in the US with our remote service. This is what people like and what people use. We also tried a lot of things that aren't really working, because people aren't using it and they don't see the benefit in it so we are still out on the testing field."
"I think to start the appliances from somewhere else, your office or so, that's just a very basic function. I think we will see more and more sophisticated functions, making it a little easier to operate the appliances. We are testing out a lot of things and I'm not sure which one will be the real benefit in the end. We haven't seen the killer application just yet."
The company designed its M-Touch user interface based on the smartphone after it saw young people attempting to touch the display on the appliances, but Miele isn't quite ready to give all the power to the smartphone.
"We can already do that [connect appliances to smartphones]. The question is always: what is the real user benefit behind starting your washing machine from the kitchen? It's a limited benefit because you have to load and unload the washing machine manually. So that's a question about whether smartphone and connected appliances are really working."
Avoiding electronic gimmicks
Miele's approach to smart and connected appliances is to ensure the user benefits from the technology, rather than it just be an "electronic gimmicks" to grab headlines.
Zinkann concluded: "I believe humans want to talk to humans and there will always be the personal touch necessary. The fridge might, in 50 years, speak to the grocer and tell him, 'My owner loves salami and this cheese, we have come to an end, please send.' But I believe people still want to go to the grocers, speak to somebody, taste a piece, try out some new cheese and so on. We are speaking of groceries, but that's true of other things too."
While true, we're sure that plenty of people would like to take the human angle out of laundry.
The W1 is available in nine models and prices start from £1199, while the T1 comes in four models starting at £1099.