Building a giant touchscreen into a refrigerator door isn't much of a trick, says LG's Chief Technology Officer Skott Ahn. What's hard is getting all of these smart home devices working together.
The touchscreen fridge in question is the just-announced Samsung Family Hub refrigerator. That fridge will has plenty of wow factor, but it won't unravel the gnarled ball of wireless communications standards and software platforms that give early smart-home adopters such a hassle.
That's the problem Ahn says LG is trying to solve as it brings more connected household products to market, as evidenced by LG's SmartThinQ control hub, announced before the show, and a focal point during LG's own press conference earlier today.
A hub is a relatively common device from any smart home device manufacturer. It's essentially a second wireless router that transmits and receives signals from connected household products, from locks to lights to air conditioners, and streamlines control of those devices into a single app. A hub is supposed to save you from having to open multiple apps to control your connected home, but not every hub supports every device. That means consumers often have to conduct extensive research or play a guessing game when it's time to add another connected device.
"You may have a Samsung TV, an LG refrigerator, but consumers want to integrate everything without thinking about the manufacturers," says Ahn across a conference table here in Las Vegas. "We would like to support Samsung products. It's not our privilege to give consumers specific protocols only."
LG building in support for products from archrival Samsung would indeed be something. The two traditionally maintain very separate silos in terms of letting their devices work together. LG's new hub doesn't offer explicit support for Samsung products yet, but thanks to open communication technologies like Wi-Fi and the Z-Wave and Zigbee smart-home standards, the technical foundation is there. LG's SmartThinQ hub supports all of those, as does Samsung's own SmartThings hub, as well as various smart home products from across the market.
That explicit support piece is key. LG's hub might recognize a simple device, like a Zigbee-based leak sensor from the SmartThings hub, but without broader software support, it might not mirror the same features as that sensor, like notifying your neighbor via a text message if the sensor detects a leak while you're out of town. That partial functionality offers another potential point for consumer confusion.
"I don't have an answer," says Ahn, when I asked him about how to educate consumers about this complexity. "We're trying to solve it. It should be a black box, but it's not, yet."
As for that refrigerator, says Ahn:
"More than 15 years ago. we released a fridge with a 13-inch screen. It was a traditional fridge with laptop PC built in. We got rid of the keyboard. You know the after story. Consumer acceptability in terms of usability, and cost should be well-matched. Technically we can put the biggest screen in a fridge. It doesn't mean anything. We have a lot of combinations in our lab. Until we introduce what meets real consumer needs, plus an acceptable price for each product range, I won't put too much value on the screen."
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