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Realizing a Smart Life: Changing Lives with IoT Home Appliances

Increase in IoT Home Appliance Needs due to COVID-19

The time people spend at home has increased significantly due to the spread of COVID-19. As a result, there are no doubt many people who have felt that the frequency of housework has increased (e.g. food preparation and clean-up, the amount and frequency of laundry, room cleaning, etc.). In a survey conducted by Tiger Corporation, 40% respondents answered that they had more housework since the start of the pandemic. As you can see from this, lives have greatly changed. 

At the same time, changes also appeared in the demand for home appliances including refrigerators, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, and other white goods. Interest in IoT home appliances is increasing. These items are connected to a network and come with various capabilities such as remote operation. Even more users are realizing the convenience of the latest home appliances due to the increase in housework. This has led to an increase in buying replacement products for home appliances. In fact, the monetary amount of white good sales in Japan over the last year reached the highest level since the start of the century. (According to the Shipment Statistics Survey by the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association) 

Let's take a look at these IoT home appliance trends.

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IoT Home Appliances Have Evolved Dramatically: Remote Operation and Automatic Cooking

Network-connected home (smart home appliances, Internet home appliances, and IoT home appliances) began to appear in the early 2000s. However, they didn't attract significant attention at first because they offered few advantages. For example, their ability connect to and use the Internet was limited.

The arrival of smart speakers  from 2017 to 2018 kicked-off this attention. The new function of operating home appliances by voice became a topic of conversation. Together with this, IoT home appliances equipped with wireless LAN appeared one after another around this same time. Happening in parallel to this was the improvement in the wireless communication environment (e.g. the spread of Wi-Fi) and the evolution of sensor technology.

For instance, microwave ovens, automatic cooking pots, and other items have started to be converted to IoT. They have evolved into being able to give advice on menus and have enabled automatic cooking with just the flick of a switch by adding ingredients and seasonings after downloading recipes from a smartphone app. In addition, the world has seen the appearance of robot vacuum cleaners that automatically clean rooms, lighting equipment that can be switched on and off by voice, and air conditioners that can be operated remotely from outside the home and control the room temperature according to the number of people in the room and their lifestyle patterns.

Further, recent IoT home appliances are equipped with cloud-based AI functions and have evolved to realize optimal home appliance control. Manufacturers that sell IoT home appliances operate proprietary platforms to deliver necessary functions and services. IoT home appliances are then connected to these platforms.  Additionally, partner companies use these proprietary IoT platforms to provide even more services. For example, they are developing dishes suitable for IoT-enabled cooking appliances to deliver the ingredients necessary to make recipes. Home appliance manufacturers have opened up these IoT platforms and are providing them to various service companies, speeding up the movement to further improve service quality.

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Diversification of Functions and Expansion in the Size of the Global Market

The percentage of those saying they would like to try using IoT home appliances has risen to approximately 40% according to a survey conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The IoT home appliances that people would most like to use are kitchen appliances (approx. 45%), followed by televisions, cleaning appliances, air conditioners, washing machines and lighting – all ranking between 30% and 40%. Moreover, 54% of respondents felt the need to make housework more convenient by allowing for digital transformation in their own homes. (According to a survey by Tiger Corporation)

The lineup of IoT home appliances is increasing at an exponential rate – such as air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, air purifiers, and microwave ovens. The ratio of smart TVs – sets that can connect to the Internet – also continues to increase.

IoT home appliances functionality is also diversifying. In addition to energy-saving and comfort control, these devices and facilities are becoming one device. The equipment has evolved to be able to provide optimal control and advice to each family member  by aggregating and analyzing its operating history data. The development of functions and services to enhance quality of life (QOL) has been stimulated through the utilization of IoT platforms operated by IoT home appliance manufacturers. This includes the provisioning of services such as the home delivery of ingredients and monitoring of family members by various service providers.

The number of IoT home appliances operating globally  increased from approximately 1 billion in 2018 to approximately 5 billion in 2019 according to the 2020 White Paper on Information and Communications in Japan by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). This number is projected to reach 8.7 billion in 2022, and will continue to grow well into the future. While it is said that Japan is behind the rest of the world when it comes to the adoption of IoT home appliances, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is pushing ahead with policies to support the realization of a smart life. Thus, the day may be near when IoT home appliances become the standard.

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