Turns out, getting the internet on your washing machine isn’t as complicated as you might think. Whirlpool’s got you covered with its smart washer. But does anyone actually use it?
“It’s not at all widespread,” Chris Quatrochi, a Whirlpool Global Director, admitted at Structure Connect Wednesday. He chatted with Gigaom Executive Editor Tom Krazit about the challenges the consumer electronics industry has faced in developing connected products that customers will actually want.
“We’ve all tried putting tablets on fridges — Whirlpool is guilty of that too,” Quatrochi said. “Trying to understand the value proposition you provide to the consumer is a challenge.”
To Quatrochi, the difference between a tech company and a product company comes down to how the tech solution is developed. For a tech company, a security solution, or a new kind of fridge, or an experimental product might by interesting in and of itself from a tech perspective, and therefore worth building. But from a consumer product perspective, building something just because it’s cool — without understanding how it benefits users — is pointless.
“If you want consumers to make the technology or data you’re driving relevant, you have to have products they desire first and foremost,” Quatrochi says. “It is at this point I’ll call it maybe a feature add. It’s not just an early adopter one percent technology.”
Although Whirlpool has been experimenting with the smart appliance space for some time now, the company hasn’t nailed its efforts. Since the company makes two million washers and dryers a year in North America, it’s difficult to introduce new developments quickly. Not to mention making sure that old products don’t become outdated when the technology evolves. Whirlpool is learning how technology infrastructure can help it ship faster.
“Will I not be able to do my laundry on a Friday if I don’t download a software update?” Krazit posed as an example of a connected washing machine.
“We put connectivity that is upgradeable,” Quatrochi reassured him.
The question remains: Will anyone want it enough to care?