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Smart Home

LG smart appliances creep closer to connected US homes

LG promises to bring its HomeChat smart appliances to US shores sometime in 2015.

LG smart appliances with HomeChat step closer to US availability. PHOTO BY HJK

LAS VEGAS -- LG's smart home platform just took one step closer to landing in more connected households. As part of the company's marketing push at CES 2015, LG pledged that appliances running its HomeChat service will hit US stores sometime in 2015. These include big-ticket buys such as refrigerators, washers and dryers, along with air conditioners, ovens and sophisticated multiroom audio systems.

To be clear, LG has not disclosed important details like specific dates for availability, nor has the manufacturer provided pricing of any kind. As a matter of fact LG's press release even neglects to call out exactly what appliance models will support the HomeChat solution.

And in case you're wondering precisely what a HomeChat-enabled appliance brings to the table beyond the standard state-of-the-art machine, well, LG isn't quite chock-full of information there, either. That said, similar to what GE plans for its own line of Internet-connected domestic helpers, LG's smart appliances will feature remote monitoring and control through compatible phones and tablets.

So equipped, LG claims that users will be able to stay apprised of just what their fridges, washers, dryers and ovens are up to even when away from home. For example, need to know how much time is left in the washer cycle or when the clothes will be dry as a bone? No problem -- simply check your mobile device for a status report. According to LG, you'll be able to tweak (or halt altogether) the washing, cooking or cooling process remotely, too.

Expanding on this style of functionality, LG HomeChat appliances will also boast three main operational modes: leaving home, coming home, and vacation. LG explains that kicking in these presets allows for greater energy efficiency and ultimately a lower utility bill.

Some of HomeChat's other abilities, however, sound a bit far-fetched to my ears. For instance, LG touts that owners will be able to talk directly to smart ovens for the purpose of "collecting recipe recommendations and discovering exactly which ingredients are needed." LG goes on to say that, "the oven will then auto-select the appropriate setting, which helps users avoid the hassle of having to manually set the cooking mode." Frankly I'd rather just use my own recipes and know that the oven is consistently hitting the right temperature in the correct amount of time.

The same goes for texting your fridge just for the pleasure of viewing personal pictures on its display. I have a hunch that this skill will be much less convenient in practice than LG engineers imagine or have experienced in the lab. And after all, you can just look at your phone while you're in the kitchen.

The real Achilles' heel of LG's HomeChat platform though, is that it requires the Line mobile messaging application to function. The Tokyo-based Line may be a household name in Japan, but outside of Asia (and specifically, in the US) I'll bet the app has non-existent name recognition let alone a significant user base. If LG truly wants its fledgling smart-home appliance solution to take off, it needs to snatch a page out of GE's playbook and develop genuine Android and iOS apps. Of course, another route is to buy an entire smart-home platform just as Samsung did with SmartThings.