Interview: Marco Signa, senior manager, connectivity strategy, Whirlpool Corporation

Interview: Marco Signa, senior manager, connectivity strategy, Whirlpool Corporation
Published: 28 March 2018 - 6 a.m.

Can you tell us about Whirlpool's smart home line-up?

At Whirlpool, we believe a smart home should learn and grow with how families care for each other, we believe that by creating purposeful technologies families will have more time to spend with the one they love. Connectivity in home appliances works best when it can be predictive and serve as an extension of the family, reducing effort required in doing chores and freeing up time and mental bandwidth for more creative and enjoyable activities. This is the underlying theme of Whirlpool’s connected appliances vision. As a company, we were the first to present connected appliances to the market back in the year 2000.

We build appliances that can intuitively learn habits and give families what they really want out of the newest technology, which is to adapt to their day-to-day care routine. Our vision is to integrate these technologies in the most optimal way so as to empower our consumers and harmonize product features to suit their personal lifestyles.

This is how we created the Whirlpool Smart home line-up. Using these products, families are able to use automated and multi-step cooking to control meals from freezer to fork, auto-tumble their laundry to avoid wrinkles – with a few simple taps on the Whirlpool mobile app. At its core, the Smart Appliances design is emotional and personal – as unique to a consumer as songs on their favourite playlist.

As a company, we constantly monitor and analyse the utility and added value of new connectivity features. Remote-controlled devices are only one part of this. Our effort is towards driving product design strategy in a way that offers a highly evolved product experience to our consumers and give them the most convenience.

How does Whirlpool stand apart from its competitors?

It is important to focus on the process of making smart appliances. This is where Whirlpool is able to stand out and stay ahead of its peers. IoT as a concept is still evolving especially in the household appliances space. At Whirlpool, we invest significantly in the ergonomics of household appliances especially where digital interconnectedness is concerned.

We are a company with 92,000 employees and nearly US$21 billion of 2017 sales, and yet we are integrating our technologies with start-up strategies to build our IoT capabilities. We believe that the success of smart appliances is built on holistic and integrated product design. For example, last year we acquired the Yummly app, which is one of the most widely used food apps in the world. This has enriched the smart ecosystem for our users, by linking their favourite content and community to their personal home appliances.

At CES 2017, we unveiled new cooking automation features for our line-up of smart appliances, including new Alexa skills, scan to cook and guided cooking. The new feature enables users of the Whirlpool Smart Kitchen Suite app to send a recipe directly to a Wi-Fi powered appliance such as an oven, which will then follow the cooking instructions. The capability of such kitchen appliances are being multiplied with Yummly’s massive database of recipes.

As a consequence of this investment in design and innovation, our products are among the best performers when it comes to using smart technologies and this will only become richer and more ubiquitous in times to come. 

Can the appliances be controlled remotely?

Of course you can program and start the machine remotely, using your mobile phone and an app, monitor it and receive alerts when your load is done, but the real value is in the help you get by the App in always selecting what is best for the task at hand. No need to read instructions or being an expert to get perfect results. If you are wearing an Apple Watch, you can receive alerts on it too. And you can ask Google Assistant to start the washer or dryer, pause it, or run an option. You can also ask Google to find out how much longer the wash or dry cycle will take.

So basically all these features and technologies make life easier for consumers so they don’t have to worry about doing the laundry, or even cooking as you can now use voice commands to control your Whirlpool oven through voice-activated Google Assistant and the Amazon Alexa assistant.

Is the Arab region ready for smart appliances? What are your expectations from the Arab market?

We believe the Middle East and Africa region is second to none when it comes to acceptance of new technologies. In fact, the GCC and Middle East region has one of the highest rates of growth in term of internet penetration and smartphones that have built-in remote access capability. At the same time, the Middle East and Africa region is home to one of the youngest populations in the world in terms of demographics. The historical learning for us has been that markets with young populations tend to produce the best adoption rates for new technologies.

In 2017, the Middle East and Africa region represented over 10% of global revenues, which makes it a very important market for Whirlpool and a huge opportunity for technologically advanced products, going forward.
These are excellent signs and will encourage home appliance manufacturers to launch the most advanced products in this region. From 2019, all Whirlpool appliances from our Core and Premium brands (including Whirlpool, Ariston and KitchenAid) will have “connectivity” features.

What other companies have you partnered with for your smart appliances?

Today, the Whirlpool Corporation brand portfolio offers appliances that start and stop remotely, integrate with other appliances, adjust cooking temperatures, notify you when cycles are complete, upgrade automatically through the cloud, and even replenish supplies. Connectivity on these appliances is made possible through apps, and through partnerships with the Nest Learning Thermostat, Amazon Dash and Procter & Gamble, and more recently with Apple. We have also partnered with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

Through these partnerships, we are allowing our customers to connect remotely with ovens, washers, and dryers via Apple Watch. If our customers have a preference for voice command, then they have the option of getting that hands-free help from Google Assistant, and ask how much time is left on the microwave, set and adjust the cooking mode, set temperature and time on the range, start a cycle on the dishwasher or set temperatures in the refrigerator.

Likewise, they also have the option of using simple voice commands in the laundry with Amazon Alexa. That allows families to start, stop and pause the washer or ask how much time is left on the dryer. Whirlpool is also making it easier than ever to use voice control through Alexa-enabled devices. Now families can simply say: “Alexa, defrost five pounds of chicken.” or “microwave for two minutes on high.”

 

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