Journalists are craving for news, and the opening event of IFA Berlin is the Siemens press conference, right at 10 o’clock in the morning. It is newsworthy because it has been the premiere of many interesting novelties from BSH (Bosch-Siemens Home Appliances) , the European market leader, and the same innovations are to be seen later at the press conference of sister brand Bosch.
This year it was different.
No new appliance category, such as the heat pump dryer a few years ago, but only a high-efficiency refrigerator (bottom freezer, typical European), but an overview of trends and concepts. This was also reflected in the stand design.
Before it was quite straightforward: IFA was about white boxes. Now Siemens had a number of showrooms in the form of cubes, each containing a concept. Labeled House of Innovations, they displayed ideas such as apps for remote control (of course!), cameras to check your fridge, recipes based on these camera images and the most magic of them all: an app which took a picture of a part of your appliance, recognized it and showed a video how to operate it. That is for customers who do not want to spend the two minutes it takes to download a manual.
There was an energy saving cube, and another one showed the new variable-zone induction hob (48 generators!) and the pots and pans moved around by themselves vertically, reminding of the KA show of Circe Du Soleil in Las Vegas. Generally, it was a well-designed departure from the usual IFA product-oriented stand design.
Of course, there was news on products.
The Siemens cool efficiency combo-fridge
Dishwasher water use reached a new low of 6 liters, the heat pump dryer also went down a notch in power use to achieve the label A+++, the range of high-efficiency refrigerators has even more models, and even the vacuum cleaners reduced their power usage to 1200 watt.
Nearby, sister brand Bosch seems to have carefully avoided to offer the same information as Siemens; they went the other way, into the details. And we know that if there’s one thing the tech-obsessed Germans love, it is details. They know how to program a PVR, and they know what ABS stands for (on the car, that is, in the US it is ALB). So Bosch created Lab For Life: Twenty developers explained their efforts in detail. For instance, you could see several test installations, and the specialist on oven coatings showed several types of coatings and their properties.
Only in Germany and in Japan customers are interested in this kind of information.
In products, the narrow (45cm) dishwasher also got the 6 liter technology, and for integrated dishwashers there is TimeLight: remaining running time is projected on the floor.
Miele fragrance dispenser
The second largest appliance maker in Europe is Electrolux, and they always play big with their German AEG brand. This time the focus was the main Electrolux brand, as last year the new AEG built-in product line was introduced.
Now the Electrolux Inspiration Range was presented. Here, elements from professional cooking were integrated. Remember that Electrolux is the only white goods maker who was a large professional division (cooking as well as laundry). A team of professional cooks designed hundreds of recipes for the ovens, and the CombiSteam oven has special programs where you can combine steam and hot air, for instance for baking bread you use 50% steam. The Inspiro oven has extra sensors. GemLine is a modular hob system (mostly called domino) with gas, induction, Teppan Yaki and grill modules. The ColorFridge is, you guessed it, available in several colors.
Not present, sadly, was the third large European player Whirlpool; they never go to IFA, so we also have to miss the Bauknecht brand. They save their stuff for Milan’s Eurocucina.
Miele press conference
Number four, at least in Northern Europe, is premium brand Miele. As German as Mercedes, they offer impeccable products, perfect organization, healthy margins and a top image. Their press conference took place on a fashion runway, in line with the company’s association with fashion as an image builder (remember that washers are their flagship product). Miele was founded by the Miele and Zinkann families, and great-grandson Dr. Rheinhardt Zinkann is now CEO. He is unique in the sense that he is educated as a philosopher, and therefore his speeches are much more interesting than his fellow CEOs, there is always a hint of Obama-like hope in there.
Of course he quotes German writer-philosopher Goethe, always a must for any educated German. On top of that, a washer was lowered out of the ceiling at the end of his speech, so all tastes in showmanship were met. Miele offered a small but fun new feature: dryers with a fragrance dispenser. They found out that many customers use fabric softener for the flagrance alone. Not smart, because your dryer already does the softening and also blows the flagrance out of your laundry. It is much more logical to have the dryer add the flagrance, and that is done through a small reservoir in the lint filter in the door.
Miele offers three flagrances. Maybe not the greatest innovation ever invented, but still, the perfection is in the details, and customers will like it. Another novelty was the wine cooler with decanting function. Or, better said, room for a decanting carafe and matching glasses, which then get the right temperature. Miele did admit that it is a bit of a show, this wine serving and drinking ritual, but hey, if customers like a product which is supporting their habits, why not?
The third novelty was a working version of an ultra-efficient dryer prototype of last year. It is a condenser dryer with hydraulic connections to a stratified DHW heater. The hot water from the top layers is used to heat the air, and the water from the bottom layers cool the air in the condensers, allowing for almost 80% less energy use. It might not be an easy sell, a dryer connected to a water heater with four pipes, but it is a valuable effort to tackle one of the biggest power consumers in the household.
A fun concept was the washer without control panel; you set it with (you guessed it) your smartphone. Maybe not realistic, but a fun idea and matching the spirit of today.
Miele washer with smartphone
Small But Big: GroupeSEB and Philips
In small appliances, these two companies rule in Europe. GroupeSEB is French and relies on cookware (hey, what else for a French company), and Philips is the Dutch electronics giant who has a very successful (and innovative) small appliance division, with shavers as the flagship product. Many years ago their large appliance business was sold to Whirlpool.
GroupeSEB has a good brand strategy in place, where once-German brands Rowenta and Krups cover German-oriented markets. Philips did offer a new product category: the self-stirring baking pan called Home Cooker. UK brand Kenwood does offer mixers with heating, and there are blenders who heat also, but the HomeCooker is the first which can go up to a 250° C while stirring, enough for serious stuff.
TV cook Jamie Oliver helped in developing the product and at the press conference he also showed what a great and witty showman he is. Philips hopes to repeat the huge success they had with their oil-free fryer AirFry.
GroupeSEB presented new vacuums for the Rowenta brand: ultra-low noise and high efficiency, just 1200 Watt; 68 dB for the bagless version and 63 dB for the version with bag. That means you can vacuum the hallway while the kids are sleeping. The 1200 Watt power shows that the ridiculous power race in vacuums is finally over. The Krups brand, famous for espresso makers, saw a new version of their duck-shaped (really) single serving espresso maker Melody, which is a real hit with a younger audience. It got electronic instead of manual controls. The upgraded BTC (bean-to-cup) model EA8421 stands out for its modern design, it is one of the few white models and fits perfectly with your Braun or Apple equipment.
The design is special in the sense that horizontal lines are prevalent, as in traditional espresso makers, instead of vertical lines seen in most BTC machines. The overhaul was that there are more advanced control options.
A new cordless iron is offered under the Tefal brand. This product has been tried before, and failed, but with a new thermoblock and faster reheating it could work. The Freemove uses the fact, derived from research, that a typical user irons for four seconds and then needs eight seconds to rearrange the fabric. Compared to the size of the company, the display surface was quite small, not a coincidence. The space at IFA was so scarce that GroupeSEB had to set camp in a separate container box outside the normal halls, on the south entrance.
Miele wine cabinet with decanting system
In Europe white goods are mainly a German and Italian activity, with a bit of Spanish (FagorBrandt) and the Koreans as new kid on the block. Less attention goes to the very active Turkish manufacturers. There are two: Arçelik and Vestel. Arçelik is the white goods division of the Koç conglomerate, a large industrial group which makes about everything, and is a symbol of the commitment of Turkey to industrial production. This in sharp contrast to the Arab world, where working in a factory is not popular. BSH also has large facilities, including designing, in Turkey, as well as Ford, Volkswagen and Fiat.
The main brand in Europe for Arçelik is Beko, and they do well in for instance the UK with it’s extremely price sensitive market. Beko was at IFA and while the stand was not as luxurious as others, their technology is impressive. Name it (high efficiency dishwashing, A+++ refrigeration) everything is there. Eye catcher was a design project together with Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola, who works in Milan (where else, being a designer). She has an industrial, but homely style: robust without being too heavy. You can see that the design language relates to professional kitchens, but with a residential touch. Smart are the invisible hoods.
Beko was proud of their A+++ minus 10% efficiency refrigerators, just as good as the German top brands. Of course an inverter motor is used, as well as vacuum panels and even an inverter motor for the fan. There was also a super quiet combo-refrigerator (36 dB) for open kitchens. In ovens there is InnovaChef, with 82 recipes, and a TFT screen where you can import your own screen saver through USB.
Dishwasher water use is down to 6 liters, also on par with the best, and there is a cute feature nobody else has: The filter has a little sprayer inside for self-cleaning action, so the required manual cleaning is reduced by 80%. There are also steam washers and dryers, fully automatic dishwashers and heat pump dryers.
Krups coffee maker
Swiss Ironing in a New Form Factor
Laurastar is a Swiss maker of high-end steam ironing systems. They are big, heavy and have all features many average users have never heard of. They surprised design lovers with an all-new design for small steam systems.
Normally these are horizontal: generator on the front, water reservoir on the back and the iron on top, also horizontal. The result is a clunky bunch, with cables all around, and you need two hands to transport the thing. Laurastar looked outside for design assistance, and Swiss designer Antoine Cahen from Lausanne came up with a vertical design. The generator in the base, the water reservoir vertically on the back and the iron also vertically on the front. And, a handle on top which also guides the steam hose, with clips to store the hose. The overall effect is startling: the system is much more compact and the handle allows for one-handed transport. And: it looks much, much better. You wonder why nobody came up with this before. Combined with modern and minimalistic design, very functional and effective, and you guess (and hope) that they have a hit product on their hands.
Laurastar LIFT ironing system
It is like the Jetsons: a robot who performs the boring household chores, and this time it is really true. Robot vacuums are conquering the market in astonishing speed. Market leader is the Roomba from iRobot, originally a U.S. robot manufacturer for industrial and military use. As an example, the figures for the Netherlands (17 M inhabitants): within two years iRobot captured a 2% market share in value, where the total robot MS is 3%, so iRobot has 60% of this market.
And they did it with only 200 of the 1200 appliance sales locations in the Netherlands. Some retailers see the value of Roomba go up to 25% of their floor care sales. For instance in Spain, where they typically use hard floors, iRobot has 25% MS of all floor care in value. So a retailer can generate extra revenues by focusing on the product.
Roomba is clever: The iAdapt routing system basically tries to measure the room using straight paths, and then detects all obstacles and tries to hover around these obstacles. In the YouTube videos you’ll see that it might seem chaotic, but in time lapse view it becomes clear that iAdapt is smart and manages to reach the whole floor surface three times.
The new 600 series is replacing the 500 range, and it got the internals from the 700 top line. The airflow is improved, not through but over the brushes, so less cluttering. There is also less dust sticking in the brushes. The 700 series has extra sensors: it detects extra dirt on the floor and warns when the dust bin is full.
Samsung display at the south entrance to IFA
New Threat: Korea
Samsung surprised the white goods community by occupying two entire halls: one for brown goods and mobile, and the other for white goods. That itself could be decoded as a provocation to the European white goods makers; even market leader BSH doesn’t take up that much floor space.
And they didn’t even have a lot of novelties: the focus was on existing products and brand profiling. Samsung wants to be the biggest in white goods in 2015. The strategy is focus on a few key products (washers, refrigerators, ovens, SBS), beat the Germans on price and the Italians on quality and features, and skip the sometimes futile differences between all the European countries. Key technological features are 12 kg capacity and EcoBubble in washing (EcoBubble is an extra pump to mix water and detergent, so the detergent dissolves better and you can use lower temperatures.), in cooling inverter compressors and vacuum panels and in ovens twin cavities and a steam function within a standard size. And all these features are offered at unbeatable prices.
Of course, this focusing means that there is no full product range, as offered by competitors, especially in built-in. Interesting was the move from direct drive to belt drive for washers. For many years Samsung (and LG) promoted direct drive, but now Samsung moves back to traditional belt drive because it uses less space, but also because direct drive is less reliable. The movements from the laundry in the drum, especially during spinning, are transferred to the motor axis when you have direct drive. This translates to more motor defects, something the Europeans never failed to mention (they did switch to inverter motors though).
Car makers Hyundai and Kia achieved success in Europe by localizing design and production, and so is Samsung. Most production is in Poland and there are design centers in London (in the European headquarters), and Stuttgart, Germany, the industrial heart of Europe, not far from Mercedes and Porsche.
The “other” Korean company LG was a bit more modest.
The white goods were (unlike last year) for the trade only, and limited space was allocated. Of course, the unique linear compressor is a main draw for LG: instead of four friction points in a conventional compressor motor the linear drive has only one, thus saving energy.
The unique horizontal axis washer where the tub is attached to the casing instead of to the drum, thus allowing for a larger drum, now 12 kg. The SBS now has a large DoorInDoor, larger than the HomeBar door, which was mainly for drinks. Nice is the Smart Diagnosis feature: washers (and later other appliances) can communicate an error code through beeps, which can be registered by the call center over the phone, or decoded by an app in the user’s smartphone. This largely eliminates unnecessary house calls for the repair man. And it is hip because it uses an app.
One might be tempted to think that because the presence of the appliance sector at IFA is a success (now for the fifth year), that all is well. Not so fast. The crisis has hit Southern European markets quite hard, especially Spain and Italy. And no matter how hard Angela Merkel tries, the crisis is not over and is even growing as France’s financial position is worsening. And on top of that you see an aggressive Samsung attacking established German and Italian manufacturers, who were (until now) relatively safe for Chinese competition, unlike other sectors. You might feel a big headache coming up for many white goods managers in Europe.