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Your smartphone may be about to friend your Crock Pot and your Mr. Coffee won't be far behind.
Jarden (NYSE: JAH ) , a consumer products company that owns a number of small appliance brands including Crock Pot, Mr. Coffee, Oster, and many others, will soon begin offering connected appliances with practical uses that customers communicate with through their smartphones. And while these appliances won't actually be joining Facebook or favoriting your posts on Twitter, they will be doing things that previously required the presence of a person.
The company has partnered with Belkin, which offers the WeMo home automation line. WeMo products include light switches, power outlets, and related products that allow users to monitor cost and usage of various home electronics from a smartphone app. Belkin's partnership with Jarden takes home automation beyond monitoring and actually brings about practical applications. The first product in the line will be a WeMo-enabled Crock-Pot Smart Slow Cooker. From a smartphone users will be able change cooking time, adjust temperature, and check the status of their dish. The slow cooker is being released this month by Belkin and Jarden.
The two companies have not announced release dates but did show WeMo-enabled products at the 2014 Consumers Electronics Show that included a Mr. Coffee branded coffee maker and a heater, a humidifier, and an air purifier under the Holmes brand.
"WeMo has become a major player in the connected home thanks to its simple, scalable, and affordable nature – words not typically associated with the connected home," said Ohad Zeira, director of product management for WeMo, at CES.
These devices may not be as fantastical and Jetsons-feeling as some people who have been waiting for the table that knows how to buss itself would want, but they deliver something useful that consumers may want.
Do customers want a connected home?
While there has been no breakout consumer success in the connected home market, the so-called "Internet of Things" has been growing. The IOT is the name given to the concept of connected devices that improve efficiency. Think everything from million-dollar pieces of medical machinery that can order their own maintenance calls to copiers that send the office manager an email when the toner supply has run low.
The IOT has made strides in areas including health care and manufacturing and in addition to Jarden some major players are betting on its future. In January Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) reached an agreement to buy Nest Labs for $3.2 billion in cash. "Nest's mission is to reinvent unloved but important devices in the home such as thermostats and smoke alarms," the company wrote in the launch release.
The Wipro Council for Industry Research produced a report on the connected home industry and it was bullish on the growth potential of the market segment.
"[C]onnected home devices are potentially the 'Next Big Thing' in the consumer electronics industry and could reach a global market value of $10 billion by 2014," the report said. "The figure will balloon with growth in sensor and control technologies, mobile applications, network traffic, big data management, analytics, and cloud computing."
Still, while Nest products have attracted some early adopters as have the WeMo devices, the accent should be on the word "potentially" as there is no conclusive proof that people actually want their refrigerators to message them when the milk goes bad.
Connected small appliances could be the litmus test for the connected home industry
One of the reasons the Internet of Things is gaining momentum in the business world is that it has real practical applications. If a company can minimize downtime and maximize efficiency on expensive equipment, it helps the bottom line. Picture a hospital where the guy who fixes the MRI machine shows up for a repair before anyone knows the machine is broken. That results in a quicker repair, less down time, and happier customers.
Part of the reason connected home devices have been slow to catch on is that while it's cool to know how much energy a particular device is using and neat to be able to control your thermostat remotely, no practical problem is being solved.
A connected Crock Pot, however, allows two working parents to have an easy way to avoid overcooking dinner. Simply turning a slow cooker from "low" to "warm" at the right time can be the difference between a moist and delicious dinner and a meal turned to inedible shoe leather. Similarly a connected coffee maker is not a life-changer, but being able to have a pot of coffee just finishing percolation as you walk through the door to host an afternoon meeting in your living room would have its benefits.
Homes are likely to become more connected if the connectivity is more than just a gimmick. Jarden owns numerous brands with product lines that could benefit from the type of connectivity, so consider the connected Crock Pot, Mr. Coffee, and Holmes products as a gauge for what types of home devices people want to be on the Internet of Things.
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