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FeibusTech: market insight & analysis. Influencer, analyst in IoT, digital health/fitness, wearables, connected car, smart home, privacy/security. Columnist for Tech section of USA TODAY and Fortune.

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Here Come the Smart Appliances

Forward-thinking Chinese appliance vendors like Haier are getting aggressive about turning the Connected Home vision into a reality. They are integrating connectivity across their product lines, from wine coolers to water heaters. Because of lengthy replacement cycles for home appliances, Haier understands that an appliances it sells today will have to connect with a broad range of other smart devices ten years from now. To help ensure that happens, Haier is future-proofing its broad line of appliances by integrating intelligent, platform-agnostic connectivity components from Qualcomm.

Most everyone can buy into the vision for the Connected Home. It’s a future where dozens of smart devices around the house are all choreographed to make our lives better. Like a washing machine that knows to add your brand of bleach to the grocery delivery order on your phone, or an oven that can tap into the living-room speakers to tell you that it’s pre-heated and ready to go.

It all sounds pretty compelling. But take a look around at what’s available today, and that vision seems as though it’s a long way off. You can go out and buy a few connected things, like home security systems, thermostats, door locks and even light bulbs and speakers. Those devices are fun and useful for early adopters. But they’re expensive. And they barely scratch the surface of what’s possible.

So how do we get there from here?

Haier executives think they have the answer. The company is one of a handful of forward-thinking Chinese appliance vendors that are adding connectivity across their product portfolios. Already, Haier boasts connectivity in more than 140 types of appliances, including air conditioners, refrigerators, water heaters, washers and dryers – even toasters and rice cookers.

A critical piece of Haier’s strategy is that it’s adding connectivity to value-priced appliances and budget models as well as to its higher-end offerings. In doing so, Haier executives believe, they will help to jumpstart sales of smart devices and build the critical mass of smart appliances needed to realize the Connected Home vision.

For consumers, Haier’s strategy means that, soon, they won't have to decide whether they want a smart appliance because, more than likely, the model they choose will have connectivity built-in regardless.

As well, appliance makers in other regions should take note. Although virtually all of them buy into the Connected Home vision, many have been content to offer just a few smart appliances at premium price points and wait for the demand to gradually pull the capability down into their higher-volume models. If Haier and the other Chinese suppliers are successful in migrating their strategy to other regions, other vendors might find that they need to step up their rollout schedules to stay competitive.

Thus far, Haier has focused on the Connected Home in China, where the segment is growing faster than in other regions. That’s due in part to what appliance vendors like Haier are doing to waterfall connectivity down into the lower price points. As well, large internet companies like Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent are luring consumers to buy smart products with special bundles and discounts. In the long run, they hope that today’s sales can position them to sell Connected Home products in the future.

Haier also would like to secure a role in the Connected Home services market. To do that, the company has developed a platform called U+, which manages communications between consumers, third-party services and all the connected devices in the home, regardless of whether Haier made them. The platform already supports more than 100 different brands of connected devices.

That flexibility will serve Haier well when it begins to roll out smart appliances in the US and Europe later this year. The company is not nearly so well known outside of China, so it will be relying on third-party platforms rather than U+ to communicate with its hardware. It is a key reason why, for example, Haier is supporting Apple’s HomeKit platform for the Connected Home.

Indeed, it is company execs’ unwavering commitment to maintain open communication between all smart devices that led them to select Qualcomm components for their smart appliances in the first place. Haier is standardizing its connected devices on AllJoyn, the open-source framework for IoE interoperability created by Qualcomm and now managed by the AllSeen Alliance. (Haier is a founding member of AllSeen.)

Qualcomm’s IoE chipsets support AllJoyn, as you might expect. But it’s important to understand that Qualcomm, like Haier, is dedicated to supporting all connected platforms. In July, in fact, Qualcomm joined the board of directors for the Thread Group, a Connected Home platform founded by Google-owned Nest Labs. So Haier isn’t locked into the AllJoyn framework – or any framework for that matter. There’s plenty of programmability and intelligence built into the Qualcomm IoE chipsets for Haier to build around another framework if it chooses. Now and in the future.

Indeed, interoperability and intelligent connectivity is crucial when you consider that Haier is placing appliances in homes today for a Connected Home vision that won’t be fully realized for years to come. Given the long replacement cycles, Haier executives know that they need to future-proof their smart appliances. Because they understand that a smart dishwasher they sell today will need to interoperate with everything else in the Connected Home well into the next decade.