Innovation is Coming Home!

IoT and the connected home have yet to become a reality for most but at IFA 2018 appliance maker Beko led the way

IFA this year was much like previous years, hundreds of companies screaming from the rooftops about minimally iterative products. A few more pixels, a bit bigger screen, a bit faster processor and everything a bit thinner, oh and crap Robots. I love tech and love my gadgets and can geek out with the best of them but I attended IFA this time looking for more meaningful innovation than a bit better camera on an $800 smartphone. I am happy to report that I found it, but not where you might expect.

A decade ago the invention of the smartphone changed our lives but truly new products like this are few and far between, so every year companies try to reinvent what we already have through minor upgrades and tweaks. We are stuck in a loop where the market is slowly evolving but no real innovation is going on, and the largest companies in the world are all guilty of this lack of effort to progress, so we must start looking off the beaten track for those hat are truly working to innovate.

IoT and the connected home has been much discussed and I have seen some interesting concepts and even a few eyebrow-raising products but it is not yet in our homes, changing the way we live, and judging from the hundreds of pathetic, unimaginative and almost useless ‘innovative IoT products’ on display at IFA 2018, it’s not going to happen any time soon. But Turkish behemoth Beko, makers of reasonably priced kitchen appliances, held a press conference to announce their technology strategy and issued a white paper on the future of technology in the home and impressed me with their assessment of how new, innovative technologies in our kitchens can improve our lives and can do it affordably and in the not too distant future. These innovations might still be ahead but the way they talked about how their technologically enhanced appliances will improve our lives and address fundamental human problems in the 21st century was far more convincing than most of the pitches I head in Berlin.

“We know that the consumer landscape is transforming and as a business, we are at a pivotal point, we see the coming decades as an opportunity to embrace change and be an agile innovator. Thought sustainably producing high-quality, smart and connected home products we can democratise technology, creative value and play our part in society.” Parent company of Beko, Arcelik CEO Hakan Bulgurlu explained.

The white paper, available here, outlines significant and practical improvements to human lives that affordable home appliances have made. It goes on to make the case for how developing these appliances with new technology will further revolutionise the way people live and improve their family’s health. This is innovation making a real difference to people, not just a few more pixels on a high-end TV that only a few can afford.

“By 2030 two thirds of the global middle class will be living in Asia and as people’s income increases they buy their first washing machine or refrigerator. These technologies are a game-changer in people’s lives. Why? because they free up time, especially the time of those traditionally restricted to domestic work, to do more productive work. As product innovation continues and future technologies are developed the impact on peoples lives will be even greater.” Continued Hakan.

Health is a specific area home appliances can help with, and boy do we need to help out people with this issue. According to Deloitte’s Global Health and Wellness report more people are now interested in exercise and healthy living yet UNICEF figures show that 6% of pre-school and 14% of primary school aged children are overweight or obese, and that alarmingly rises to 33% by adolescence. While there are many bodies tackling this issue (mine included!), Beko believes manufacturers can play a key role in addressing the problem through innovation in the home, improving lives through technology.

“Through innovation, home appliance makers can make a valuable contribution by responding with more compact, multi-functional appliances that free up time and aid faster and better food consumption. New tech such as image recognition, AR and AI can also be harnessed to provide practical and fun ways to make healthy living more exciting while keeping cost down.” Author of the report Ian Pearson enthused. “Home appliance makers can use their innovations to enable and encourage healthy eating and lifestyles and especially to empower parents to help their children live healthier lives. Now is the time for brands to take action and show their commitment to supporting the cause.”

To support their push into healthy living Beko have partnered with FC Barcelona and launched Eat Like a Pro, a global initiative to help parents feed their children nourishing meals. By showing children what their Football heroes eat, Beko aims to make healthy eating exciting. So far the initiative has raised 1 million Euros for UNICEF’s work tackling childhood obesity and Beko commits to provide a range of appliances featuring smart tech to better deliver healthy food for families and make cooking fun!

So how does Beko see new technology merging with traditional appliances in homes around the globe? Renowned Futurist and lead author of the white paper, Ian Pearson got quite excited when we sat down with Hakan Bulgurlu after the presser. The way Ian describes it, an appliance such as a cooker will incorporate AR & AI technology and evolve beyond just a white box that provides focused, controlled heat on demand to become a healthy eating advisor and cooking buddy, not just a cooker. He describes how companies need to use new technologies to make their products work for the customer in new and actively life-improving ways and this means fundamentally rethinking the function of the product and its role in customers lives.

The kitchen of the future Ian describes has AR overlays and games especially suited to engaging children and young people who will quickly become adept at using AR in every area of their lives. AR is also used for real-time recipes and cooking guidance, even overlaying 3D images of an assistant chef friend, Football star or AI.

“AR will have a huge impact on family life, including making it easier to persuade children to eat healthy foods by making them visually exciting, and allowing them to have their Football heroes there, cooking and eating with them. AI and IoT will be essential to most families and will be a foundation for making everything else better. Day to day life, as we know it, could be unrecognisable as soon as 2050.” Ian explained.

We all know most children respond to targets and rewards and in the future kitchen these can be linked to calorie intake, vitamins, sugars and so on and having a personal hero like Messi praise them or give them awards is a proven and well-founded part of the Eat Like a Pro initiative so expanding this into AR and AI sounds exciting.

“The convergence of technology and science is radically transforming the white goods space and we are witnessing exciting changes. At Beko, we are about bringing these latest innovations to the masses and not the few. This goes to the heart of our business. We’re focused on the new generation of families from across the world who are tech-savvy and health conscious.” Hakan commented. “Our role is to develop products which can bear some of the burdens of increasingly hectic consumers’ lives. Take the Beko AquaTechTM washing machine for example which offers smarter and fast programs with an up to fifty percent faster cycle, giving working families some much needed time back.”

It is so refreshing to see a company like Beko realising that real innovation in their sector is not a scary hinderance to growth but a necessity and an exciting opportunity. In my experience, large companies are often slow to realise that their core products are years behind where customer demand is and that they need to change and update their products to fulfil the new needs consumers have now as well as the original function of the product. Chatting to Hakan and Ian it was clear Beko gets it and that keeping technology affordable opens up new markets where innovation has previously been slow.

“We are a creator of technology and innovation. Of course, we have to find a way to differentiate our products from others and at Beko we found a few key areas to do this. Health and wellness is a huge trend and quality of life is completely dependent of how we take care of our selves.” Explained Hakan. “The best features have previously been reserved for the high, premium brands. It doesn’t need to be that way. If I am bringing you a product that improves your quality of life at a price you can afford, that’s great! If we can address those customer’s needs, if we can adapt your product with technologies that are relevant to how they want to use the product, then we win.”

I for one, can’t wait to see these technologies in my kitchen and will keep you all posted on how companies like Beko are bringing these innovations to market. I would love to see more respected brands grasp the opportunities tech offers because the market is already there and demanding innovation and if you miss that point and fail to evolve you will be left far behind.

“Technology is making our lives richer and easier, which will continue to accelerate for a long time yet. If we get it right, it can free up time and give us more control of our lives which in turn will allow us to spend our time in more meaningful ways.” Dr Ian Pearson has concluded.

Tom Atkinson is a Digital Producer & Photographer at R3Digital and Reviews & Dept. Editor at Tech Trends. Connect on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @R3Digital

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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