Home appliance manufacturers regret that 50% of customers will not connect smart devices

To enlarge / This hypothetical dishwasher owner is one of the few smart appliance customers who get the full value of their appliance, including timely reminders to buy more of the company’s recommended dishwasher plates and cleaning packs.

Dani Serrano/Getty Images

Appliance manufacturers like Whirlpool and LG just don’t get it. They’ve added Wi-Fi antennas and built apps for their latest dishwashers, ovens and refrigerators — but only 50 percent or less of owners have connected them. What gives?

According to manufacturers quoted in the Wall Street Journal report (which usually requires a subscription), the problem is that if users connect a device that spins their clothes or keeps their food cold, customers don’t know everything the manufacturer can do. such as “providing manufacturers with information and insights about how customers use their products” and enabling companies to “send over-the-air updates” and “sell relevant replacement parts or subscription services”.

“The challenge is that the consumer doesn’t see the true value that manufacturers see in terms of how this data can help them in the long run. So they just don’t care to spend time putting it together,” Henry Kim, U.S. director of LG’s ThinQ smart device division, told the Journal.

LG told the Journal that less than half of its smart devices, which account for 80 to 90 percent of devices sold, connect to the Internet. Whirlpool reported that “more than half” were closed. Wi-Fi connected smart devices can connect when first set up, but a new ISP, router hardware, or Wi-Fi password can take the device offline. A smart oven will likely be very low on the list of appliances to be rebuilt after this happens.

That means companies like Whirlpool are missing out on service revenue, which is increasingly important to manufacturers facing rising input costs, declining replacement purchases and hungry shareholders. Whirlpool acquired the Yummly recipe management app in 2017, and its customers can sync a Yummly Pro subscription with a smart oven to follow recipe prompts (apparently, it sometimes needs to go beyond “heat to this level”).

For its part, LG saw an increase in water filter sales when it tracked water volume in plug-in coolers and non-plug-in coolers, the company told the Journal. Both companies also offered new features, including security alerts, to connected customers.

Whirlpool told the Journal that customers “have the option to opt in or out” of sharing information with the company. LG doesn’t offer that option, but Kim told the Journal that “all data is anonymous.”

While manufacturers blame technical limitations, some customers may be reluctant to provide security access to their networks to companies with unclear privacy policies or poor histories.

LG smart TVs were found in 2013 to upload extensive data to their servers about all the activities that take place on them, including viewing files on USB sticks. At the time, LG acknowledged that it had collected the data, but it suggested that the data was “non-personal” and was only used for ad targeting or as part of discontinued software projects. LG is far from the only TV maker involved in automated content recognition, but it is one of a select few that makes dishwashers.

More broadly, smart home (or Internet of Things or IoT) devices are often built with a “buy, download, whatever” mindset. Take test models from iRobot/Roomba (to be acquired by Amazon) that upload images of someone on the toilet to the cloud. Or any of the dozens of devices detailed in an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers study, a Northeastern/Imperial College survey, or the Mozilla Foundation’s list of “Privacy Outliers.” The problems are so widespread and varied that the White House has called for universal IoT security labeling.

Appliance manufacturers are eager for buyers to connect their smart devices, but at least some may think they’re doing a smart thing by letting them work offline.

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