The technology growth story has long focused on the consumer – and that story continues. But as enterprises look to technology to facilitate their own transformation, the opportunities for technology companies have broadened considerably.

Manufacturers of consumer electronics, household appliances, and air conditioners are continually on the leading edge, considering unconventional, and innovative ways to meet the demands of the savvy consumer. The industry’s tremendous investment in research is a strong indicator that there will be emergence of ecosystems and platforms that deliver a whole new level of value and opportunities.

Television Gets Bigger and Better

The advancement of televisions has been as relentlessly consistent as any sector in technology during the last half-century. The good thing is there is no sign the pursuit of visual perfection is slowing down. As technology is advancing, the industry’s notion of what is standard changes. With the 3-D fad over and app-loaded smart TVs now standard, the focus of TV makers is back on creating the best possible two-dimensional image for viewers to enjoy. While the vast majority of consumers still use high-definition sets, the gradual shift to 4K UHD is gathering pace. 

This year, televisions are not just getting bigger, but also offer an increasingly realistic picture. More colors and brightness settings, better contrast, and the perfect black are the trends currently dominating the market. The resolution and refresh rates of modern TVs are continuously improving, but the interface between the display and hardware must evolve to support greater bandwidth demands. The new HDMI 2.1 specification supports higher resolutions and refresh rates than its predecessors owing to its increased bandwidth capacity. TV manufacturers are taking some other steps to make their sets more useful, for instance, how their sets will work with new home hubs such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Television manufacturers are bombarding consumers with a whole series of buzzwords– OLED, 4K, 8K, HDR, QLED, and wide color gamut (WCG) among others – intended to spur excitement and generate sales.

Simon Bryant

“What we are seeing is the movement of the brains of the TV out of the device, turning them into little more than high-spec displays.”

Simon Bryant,
Associate Director,
Futuresource Consulting

4K UHD. It is the next generation of high-definition display technology for the home, offering consumers an incredibly immersive viewing experience with superior picture quality compared to current HD displays. 4K UHD is one of the major product trends in 2017 and is making a push into the mainstream. While these TVs have been available for a while, broadcast content is now catching up with the technology. 4K UHD films and TV shows are emerging through streaming services at a higher resolution. These sets are no longer prohibitively priced, meaning far less of a barrier to adopting the new technology. As graphics-processing hardware becomes more powerful and the consumer’s average supported resolution increases, 4K UHD should become the standard display resolution of the future.

HDR. 4K is not the only big step forward for TV technology. The emergence of HDR technology may make a bigger difference to the overall quality of the image than the resolution boost. It addresses the difference between the darkest and the brightest parts of a picture and is considered an even more profound upgrade than resolution. Because of the move to 10-bit coding needed for recording, distributing, and delivering HDR, WCG is improved almost as a by-product. But visually, it makes a big difference. Whereas 4K is about resolution, HDR is about more lifelike contrast and color. There are a number of HDR standards present on the market and different manufacturers comply with different standards. This means that one HDR TV may have a smaller color range and lower contrast ratio than a different HDR TV. However, as more displays begin to support HDR, these standards should become uniform across the industry. However, HDR content is even sparser than 4K and, as is often the case, there are many competing standards battling in the format war.

The move to 4K and HDR still has many years to go before mainstream viewers enjoy this content as part of their daily viewing habits, but buying one of the new 2017 sets should now offer a certain degree of future-proofing.

Jean-Marc Frangos

“There is a bit of a war going on between the competing HDR standards, two are streaming-focused and two are broadcast-focused. In the long run there will be one for each, but I cannot see any clear winners yet. TV manufacturers have done the right thing and just implemented everything. The new 2017 sets [on show at CES 2017] are able to decode all four. This way, consumers do not have to think – oh my gosh I should have waited for this.”

Jean-Marc Frangos,
Managing Director of External Innovation,
British Telecom

OLED. OLED TVs have established themselves as premium TVs in the television market with features such as WCG, wide viewing angle, and deep blacks. The dominant view is that OLED TVs will replace LCD TVs. It remains the quality standard in the television industry as every manufacturer aspires to develop bigger, brighter, slimmer, and cheaper displays. Since OLED display allows flexible plastic screen to be created that is easily transportable, light-weight, shatter-resistant, and more energy-efficient than other display technologies, it continues to be the choice of manufacturers and consumers due to its high picture quality. However, OLED TV panels are inherently more difficult to manufacture and require significantly higher capital expenditures; capacity limitations are likely to challenge the growth of the OLED TV segment and prevent it from becoming a mainstream product. Still technology will be an important part of the display landscape in coming years. 

Quantum dot. QD is today’s most efficient light-emitting material, thus emitting more light for less power. In the market today, QD TVs are producing more than 1400 nits of peak luminance, which is more than double a typical OLED set. Far from being simply brighter, QD TVs can more faithfully reproduce HDR content, which can contain values up to 10,000 nits. Consumers strongly prefer TVs with higher peak luminance for viewing in a typical living-room environment. In terms of color accuracy, quantum dots create a pure red-green-blue (RGB) spectrum with colors that are precisely tuned to meet the color gamut required by UHD TV. QD materials are inorganic, so they can withstand moisture better, and thus have a longer life span. They do not require an expensive vacuum-evaporation process because of their higher resistance to moisture. They are more suitable for a printing method, an alternative to vacuum evaporation. These features have caught the attention of TV makers. Many companies are showing interest in QLED, mainly because of the low return on investment on OLED. Owing to various challenges, makers will shift their focus to QD materials, which are more stable. Furthermore, QD materials are more suited for printing technology that enables the production of large-area displays at low cost. This is why QLED is drawing increasing attention not only from existing OLED producers but also from companies that are about to enter the OLED market. However, the QLED era is not about to begin in the foreseeable future, as developing QD materials for QLED will take considerable time. This is why makers are considering a QD color filter as a stepping stone first, instead of going straight to QLED. It has a great potential although even if many technological issues remain unsolved; so this promising technology deserves continuing attention in the display market.

Smart TV. Smart TVs have gained traction over the past few years all over the world. With change in technology, these TVs are becoming as suitable as personal computers when it comes to web browsing as well as Internet and video browsing. TV manufactures recognize smart TV functionality is now a mandatory feature for most TV shoppers. However, they have come to realize the costs to develop, maintain, promote, and extend their own platforms cannot be offset against any uplift in revenue from the feature. Streaming media player manufacturers have stepped into the breach to license their platforms to smart TV manufacturers. Some TV manufacturers do not appear willing to abandon their own smart TV platforms, looking instead to add more to them. Smart features will be included in more TVs than ever before despite a renewed focus on other technologies.

8K. The next step in picture clarity is on its way with 8K televisions. However, 8K display and cameras are not easily available yet, and they cost a fortune. But they will find their way to the consumer market. Many manufacturers already have 8K screens on the way. New 8K-compatible video standards are being rolled out now. Japanese broadcaster NHK, along with some major TV manufacturers, has announced plans for 8K TV and broadcasts. And at the annual CES, where new models are introduced, concept TVs with 8K resolution were on display this year. Increasing pixels is the easiest technological advancement when it comes to TVs. Making the actual 8K TV is not hard, but creating and distributing 8K content is. With HDMI 2.1 there is a consumer cable that can do this resolution and more.

Air Conditioners Go Green

Air conditioners have already come a long way. While early air conditioners were noisy, lacked efficiency, and were expensive to operate, modern air conditioner manufacturers have made great strides to implement cooling technology that is both efficient and convenient, providing consumers with seemingly endless choices. Control units, too, have gotten smarter and contextually aware, capable of intelligently adapting to prevailing conditions in a room. Air conditioners are perceived as being anything but green. But a combination of new technologies, changing market needs, and stringent government regulations are all set to green-ify the industry.

The latest game changer is inverter technology, which can significantly reduce energy consumption and electricity bills. With the world becoming increasingly conscious about global warming, air conditioners that are not only energy efficient but also utilize the latest technology will be most in demand in 2017. Flexible, modular, and ductless cooling solutions, including those with smaller footprints and ideal for retrofit and general residential applications, will also remain in high demand.

The latest air conditioners do a lot more than just cool or heat homes and offices; they also promote healthy living with their advanced air-purifying technologies. On the efficiency front, water-based variable refrigerant flow (VRF) technology is more efficient than air-cooled VRF and is suitable for any type of application. VRF technology is now widely accepted in every application – high-rise residential towers, community villas, school buildings, commercial institutions, warehouses, metro stations etc., there are various advancements hitting the market such as:

Movement-activated air conditioning. Modern technologies have come up with a new air conditioning design that utilizes sensors along aluminum rods hung from the ceiling. Movement then activates these sensors. In other words, the air conditioner switches only on when people are present.

Solar-powered air conditioning. Today, there are several solar-powered air conditioners that are already changing the world, thanks to their high efficiency levels and BTU output. It is a low-cost alternative to traditional air conditioner units. The technology utilizes thermal (solar) energy to greatly enhance efficiency and airflow while reducing noise. Solar-powered air conditioning is definitely a transformational market opportunity with a great future. As pressure to go green mounts, solar-powered air conditioners are also becoming the preferred option for homeowners and major developers and builders. Most solar-powered air conditioners are ductless and, therefore, allow 100 percent of cooling or heating to be delivered directly to where it is needed without losses that often occur in ducted systems. The solar-powered air conditioners mark a new era of energy efficiency and renewable energy and are bound to have a huge impact on reducing the world’s total energy consumption in both residential and commercial buildings through cost-effective use of renewable energy. However, it is not a widespread technology yet, and it will likely be several years before this kind of design becomes widely available.

Ice-powered air conditioning. Air conditioners seem to be prime systems for tweaking and making better. That is why an ice-powered AC system called the ice banking is being encouraged. The ice banking essentially works by freezing water in a tank overnight during off peak hours of the electrical energy demand, so the ice can help cool a building the next day. So far, the design has been able to provide enough cooling which offsets appreciable part of conventional cooling load of the peak demand during peak electricity demand hours.

Smart thermostats. Demand for Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats is skyrocketing as consumers seek out the convenience of controlling home or office temperatures through their smart phones or tablets. Despite the availability of quality Wi-Fi-enabled products from leading thermostat manufacturers, a mere 10–15 percent of residential and light commercial installations involve such models. The primary objection is a wholesale price point that is 4–5 times the cost of a traditional thermostat. This has created a market dynamic where demand for technology is only coming from those willing to pay a much higher price. As a result, leading thermostat manufacturers are working to drive down the costs while maintaining quality, superior control, and broader options – all while trying to reach a level where price and demand meet in the sweet spot for broad market adoption. Advancing technology has lowered the price of Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats in a number of areas. As technology has improved, larger displays and faster, more compact, energy-efficient microprocessors have become available at lower price points. This has allowed leading manufacturers to deliver products closer to a two-time to three-time price point – and dropping.

In addition to energy-saving inverter-based systems, manufacturers are now offering more environment-friendly refrigerants such as R-410A. Over the next several decades, air conditioner systems will transition to using low-GWP refrigerants, including synthetic substances such as HFOs and lower-GWP HFCs, as well as non-fluorinated fluids such as hydrocarbons. Some air conditioner systems may transition to entirely different technologies that move beyond vapor compression technology altogether, while maintaining or improving efficiency. Technological advances in air conditioning have enabled the manufacturers to address the challenge of maintaining optimum operating temperatures, while mitigating the carbon footprint.

Critical Year for Home Appliances

The home appliances market is an ever-growing market, with a huge potential to grow and cater to the needs of the consumers. This has been playing a crucial role in easing the life of the people along with providing quality services and products that take a huge load off the working population. Developing markets of Asia-Pacific have driven the growth of the market by leading the pack with innovative products at a much lower cost, which has led to a majority of the population across nations to invest in technology to reduce the burden on their shoulders. Manufacturers are also focusing on continuous technological advances to add more perceived values to their products and enhance their functionality, which can, in turn, enhance the convenience of users. Now in 2017, advanced and sophisticated technology steadily makes its way into the inner workings of luxury homes – synching smart home to smart phone!

The current trend of smart homes is encouraging the use of smart appliances in home designing, with people willing to invest in a completely connected home that can be easily operated. With big players in the market investing in R&D to come up with smart applications, it will lead to smart appliances propelling the growth of the home appliances market. 2017 will also be on making it easy for consumers to use their smart home products – and artificial intelligence (AI) will be a key enabler. There will be an uptick in development in AI, particularly in enhancing voice-control capabilities.

Improved network infrastructure and high smartphone penetration rates are enabling the growth of the smart home and adoption of connected appliances is expected to pick up in 2017. Time-saving connected appliances that can bring about cost savings will be increasingly favored by consumers. With appliances, retailers, and software providers ramping up investment to get as many of their products out in the market as possible, consumers’ awareness of connected appliances will be at an all-time high in 2017. Deep learning technology is expected to be the next iteration and focus for smart home appliances as they continue to evolve to lifestyles, physical home space, adaptive environments, and user dynamics.

The idea of a smarter refrigerator has been embraced by most manufacturers, with different features that range from in-fridge monitoring (food inventory, expiration date alerts, climate control, etc.) to recipe discovery, list-making, family bulletin boards, and even grocery shopping. Smart refrigerators open a whole new world for getting content and services. Several refrigerator models sport a window in the front door that allows one to see the contents without having to open it, keeping the cool air from escaping. A few others have integrated a connected camera for remote viewing. They will include touch-screen displays on the front of their doors, one or more cameras inside, and Wi-Fi radios to connect to the Internet. They will also be able to run apps, and have AI technology built in, allowing them to respond to voice commands and queries.

Continuous product innovations have led to the development of advanced washing machines that increase comfort levels and convenience of users. Companies are coming up with advanced, innovative features. Wi-Fi is being extensively used in smart washing machines while near-field communication is also being explored to establish radio communication with smartphones and to bring them in proximity. Consumers are even shifting toward energy-efficient washing machines to save money and reduce their negative impact on the environment. Features in washing machines, such as auto optimal wash, smart control, eco-check, smart diagnosis, and smart nudges, have been launched. Many models are also incorporating self-cleaning elements. Furthermore, these features often use soaking and high-speed spinning to clean them without the use of chemicals. Sixth sense is one among the innovative technologies used in washing machines. The capabilities of the machine will acquire a whole new dimension with the help of this technology, which will induce a common sense into the system and thus help it in becoming more user friendly. The built-in sensors will measure the load, spin speed, and water temperature and the automatic controls will regulate various inputs. Another similar technology used in washing machines is fuzzy logic. This technology will make the machines completely automatic. The technologies will limit human intervention and thus the monitors and sensors will determine different inputs automatically. This will help in reducing the wastage.

Apart from energy-saving factors, the latest technologies will also help in reducing the usage of materials such as detergents and softeners. The quality of water used will also be monitored. The hardness of water will be determined, as hard water can damage the clothes. The exact time required for washing and drying the clothes will be determined by the sixth-sense technology. This will help the users to time themselves properly and indulge in multiple activities. Consumers are getting options to add clothing mid-cycle, lower energy usage, optimize wash cycles, and control cycles remotely. Some sensors will help in determining the quality of detergents and the perfect water temperature according to the texture of clothes loaded in the machine for washing. Air refresh technology is also among the most popular technologies used in the washing machines. This technology initiates the induction of fresh air into these machines and heating the air too. Washing and drying of the clothes done with the help of this air and steam. New features are introduced in the washing machine market day by day. The sole aim of all these technologies is to make washing machines more user friendly.

Hot water systems are evolving hand-in-hand with 21st century industrial, commercial, and residential projects. Manufacturers are expanding product offerings and investing in new technologies to meet the broadening demands of the market and specialized application needs. Manufacturers have seen increased production costs, assembly line modifications, and advances in engineering. Consumers will gain greater operating efficiencies and the connective features they want. They are also doing more research and engaging more in the selection process. Water heating remains one of the top energy expenses in the home, and homeowners and businesses are looking for smart investments that create value by reducing monthly bills. To find those savings, they are asking for more innovative products. As the availability of high-efficiency alternative water heating technology continues to spread, these models will continue to receive more consideration from homeowners and contractors. Appearances have also changed – especially in the consideration of residential units. A water heater can now have Bluetooth and Internet connectivity and interact with smartphones, allowing users more control, and contractors easier diagnostic capabilities. Some also allow for touchscreen operation. Internet connectivity has become a significant technological trend in tank products because more and more homeowners and facility managers want additional control over their hot water – and real-time monitoring. More water heaters are now changing to accommodate electronic controls with more Internet-ready interfaces as manufacturers have put an increased focus on the user experience.

The Outlook

The technology growth story has long focused on the consumer – and that story continues. But as enterprises in every industry sector look to technology to facilitate their own transformations, the opportunities for technology companies have broadened considerably.

The market continues to throw up new products and innovations. While, in truth, much of the technologies may have been around for several years, the CE, HA, and AC industry is one that ebbs and flows over a three- to five-year period. In that time, products mature or new, updated versions tend to appear. The race for competitive advantage has led businesses everywhere to embrace the new and the cutting-edge. 

Many technologies are now coming into their own as their power and speed increase, and the cost of delivering them goes down. Intelligence driven by connectivity is giving rise to more intelligent consumer electronics, enabled by artificial intelligence, neural networks, and machine learning. Rather than relying on the user, these devices learn from the network itself and use advanced algorithms to enable better processing in the devices which will ultimately act autonomously without human input. Machine learning shows the most immediate promise; it has the capacity to enhance a wide array of applications, particularly those involving classification, prediction, anomaly detection, and personalization. The tremendous investment and research in all of these areas is a strong indicator that the industry will soon be witnessing the emergence of ecosystems and platforms that deliver a whole new level of value.