Showing that Internet connections are spreading beyond computers and smartphones, electronics company Philips has brought networking to a handful of gadgets for the home.
That fabled failure of techno-enthusiasm, the Internet-enabled refrigerator, remains a thing of the future. But at the IFA electronics show in Berlin, Philips announced a Wi-Fi-enabled air purifier that can be controlled over the Internet, a baby monitor that can use cellular data networks, and a cooker that can use online recipes.
"The Internet of things is quickly becoming a reality, and Philips will drive that change," he said said Pieter Nota, executive vice president of Philips' consumer lifestyle division, in a keynote speech Friday. The Internet of things is the idea that Net connections will spread to ordinary items like traffic signals, thermostats, door locks, and plant-health monitors.
The Internet of things is a technology-industry buzzword that, like so many others, can't be brushed off lightly. Despite the hype, miniaturization and automation mean electronic brains and communications links are spreading ever more broadly. "Philips is uniquely positioned to make the Internet of things a reality," Nota boasted, and not idly, given the company's global consumer-products clout and its experience with electronics.
Among the networked devices Philips announced at the show:
Philips Smart Air Purifier
"This is an air purifier with a Wi-Fi connection," Nota said. "You can control it from anywhere via your smartphone," for example checking home air quality just before leaving work. It'll be available only in China starting in 2014, but the company sounded optimistic that other markets would open up as clean-air phobias spread. "In Europe, consumers have limited awareness of the invisible, mediocre-to-poor, indoor air quality and its impact on their health," Philips said in a statement.
Philips HomeCooker Next
The Philips HomeCooker Next is a prototype of a countertop cooking device that can network as well as roast, steam and saute. A tablet app lets people find recipes and see how to prepare ingredients, then a Wi-Fi connection lets the cooker download the proper instructions.
"The HomeCooker knows how to prepare it by intelligently stirring and managing the right amount of [cooking] time," Nota said.
Saeco GranBaristo Avanti
This coffee maker prototype gets a boost from a tablet app. "You can use the app to find coffee recipes, then connect to machine with Bluetooth" to follow those recipes, Nota said.
The company pitched the idea -- still just a concept -- as a better way to handle after-dinner entertainment. "Whether a creamy cappuccino or a rich espresso, guests can customize their favorite coffee to their exact preference, changing its strength, volume and even temperature." Of course, the host still has transfer the choices to the machine and oversee the coffee-making.
Philips Avent Smart Baby Monitor Next
Baby monitors with wireless connections have been around for years, but this one adds 3G networking to the usual Wi-Fi, meaning that it works in places where customers might not otherwise have access.
With a smartphone app, parents can check the camera view, receive alerts, and control room lighting using Philips' Hue technology. It will go on sale in 2014, Philips said.
Of these four products, the baby monitor and air purifier will ship next year, but the other two are merely concepts for now. Such net-connected gadgets may seem silly in some cases, but as electronics companies discover ideas that consumers actually embrace, expect to see more of them.