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Climbing the Evolutionary Ladder

Climbing the Evolutionary Ladder

Technology trends of 2017 were big and impactful, with AI topping the charts, along with on-demand workforce platforms and designing for the human experience. In 2018, technology is set to shift an even bigger focus on the IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Ease of operability and competitive pricing are the keys to any effective marketing strategy as determined by the consumer electronics, home appliances, and air conditioners industry. This industry is rife with competition and shifting customer preferences now rest on innovation, compatibility, and pricing. The insight for 2018 is the influx of high technology, which has bestowed the smart prefix on many examples of home electronics. Brand names, while still relevant, are not the final say in a purchase anymore. The factors extend beyond just manufacturing and marketing in the industry. It is important for manufacturers and businesses to drive forward their research and development teams to continue to innovate and deliver solutions for the ever-changing market.

How Televisions are Changing

Amongst many technologies, television is the one that is evolving rapidly in the 20th century as a result of market competition. This evolution has come a long way from huge boxes to flat screens with high definition display, which give a more colourful experience than reality itself. Advancement in display technology led to the transformation from CRT, plasma, and LCD to utilization of LED as a backlight source for the display. In recent times, the market is flushed with OLED technology televisions. With the further progress in television technology, the market is now hit by newer technology utilizing quantum dots. However, LCD remains important due to its lower costs, higher availability, and larger screen size range; it is not going to be ignored or left behind by vendors anytime soon. There is a whole host of other new  technologies that need new hardware to take advantage of it. From 4K, to HDR, 10-bit color depth, and wide color gamut, there is a dizzying array of different specifications that TV manufacturers have been adapting to a certain extent over the course of the year. Higher resolutions are only one part of the roadmap; as TVs become bigger and better, there is a trend toward hiding them altogether.

Flat versus curved. The flat display segment has been dominating the industry. The trend can be attributed to the high cost of the curved panels. The viewers prefer a flat screen instead of a curved screen as the latter creates a mirror effect, whereby the light shining off the display covers the content. Also, the curvature makes it difficult to mount the TV on the wall. However, the companies are also focusing on manufacturing curved panels in addition to the flat panels because the curved screens provide more immersive and better viewing angles as compared to their flat counterparts. They also mitigate picture degradation as the viewing angle makes it easier to view more of an image from off to the side. Besides, the manufacturers have also introduced flexible TVs that can serve as flat as well as curved TVs.

The bigger the better. TVs with 55- or even 65-inch screens are now commonplace. In 2018, larger-sized sets are anticipated to take a bigger share of the market, especially if prices for jumbo-sized sets continue to shrink. A lot of this growth is driven by the rise of 4K TVs, which are primarily offered in 55- and 65-inch sizes where the benefits of higher resolution can be seen most strongly. As more brands have entered the 4K market over the past couple of years, the overall number of retail placements for 65-inch and larger TVs at major retailers globally has grown 33 percent. Several major TV brands have set up store-in-store shops at large electronics stores. Often these branded displays feature the larger screen sizes in order to present the most impressive exhibit possible. Consumers want bigger screens because the biggest, best screen in the house – the TV – is where family watching happens. Smaller screen sizes are taking a hit due to more people watching video on other devices, such as tablets and smartphones. People are willing to spend  money on the biggest TV they can for the main room in the house, and then use the other devices for content away from the main TV room. But for a really big TV new fabs are coming in line. These new gen 10.5 LCD fabs are optimized for 65- and 75-inch TVs.

OLED versus QLED. OLED TV and QLED TV have been competing for years, but OLED TV is expected to retain its remarkable dominance in the high-end TV market in 2018. More brands are expected to enter the OLED TV market in 2018 with a growing field rate. Promotional efforts from major TV brands have raised shipments of OLED TVs above the expected level in 2018. In contrast, major QLED TV makers have experienced some issues of promoting QLED due to its high pricing. Despite OLED’s lifespan problems TV brands are still interested in R&D of OLED, as the development of LCD is approaching a limit. QLED TV makers have been advocating its features of better color saturation and no lifespan problems; however, QD display has not yet met the commercial market standards. In the short term, QLED advocates will still use QD backlight products to compete with their rivals. The backlight system, a necessary component of TV, will make it thicker, which is less competitive than OLED. So the new generation of QLED TV will probably use a glass light guide plate as a solution for a thinner TV. In addition, pricing is also a big problem for QLED TV this year. With the promotional efforts by major TV makers, OLED TV has become a representation of high-end TV in consumers’ perception in recent years. Such a high pricing of QLED TV may reduce the consumers’ purchase intention. QD CF and QD self-emitting displays, a new generation of display technologies, which QLED advocates are expecting, will not enter mass production until 2020, at the earliest.

UHD and HDR in the frame. Momentum may have been slow, but 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) are now a staple part of the television and broadcasting’s future. Consumer 4K displays are shifting. Half of TV sets shipped in Western Europe and more than this in North America and China are now 4K. Large screens at 55-inch up to 65-inch are heading demand. This means that from a consumer perspective UHD is becoming commonplace with a variety of devices and distribution platforms now available. However, from an industry standpoint there is still a significant amount of ongoing grappling with the technology – more specifically, justifying and providing the return on investment across both hardware and content. The broad consensus is that UHD take up has been steady but not stellar; with just 0.17 percent of all TV channels distributed using satellite being UHD today. UHD is a slow burn. There is no sign yet of public service broadcasters launching a 4K service, not even to time with the FIFA World Cup this summer. A boost in consumer interest in new formats is hoped for around such major events but the impact is likely to be higher in countries like Germany where broadcasters are actually transmitting it. While distribution remains a bottleneck, the amount of content recorded in 4K and higher resolutions continues to ramp up.

On the other hand, HDR is going to change the way TV is watched. While 4K might be stealing a lot of the limelight because it offers more pixels, HDR is promising better pixels. This will help bright whites to be brighter, dark blacks to be darker, and 10-bit panels to finally display all 1 billion colors. It really is a landmark in the home entertainment history that now one can watch movie content at home with the same colour grading as in the cinemas. It is yet to be seen when broadcasters adopt HDR for the same reasons. Cinematically it is going to have a big effect too, with the director no longer needing to choose between exposing for the shadows or the sunlight. Within a year or two it will likely be possible to say that HDR has finally put the ultra in to UHD viewing, and all the issues over different standards will have been resolved.

8K joins the conversation. 8K represents the next generation of the TV industry, and with the massive increases in gen 10.5 capacity planned in the next few years, the adoption of 8K technology will be a key factor in the success of the flat panel industry. The global 8K display resolution market is witnessing immense growth, primarily due to the increasing need for high-resolution display devices and increased demand for enhanced content creation. Currently, TVs larger than the average 40-inch screen are produced with UHD or 4K. During the CES 2018 held in January, the next version of UHD TVs with 8K resolution was introduced. The market will witness the introduction of consumer-grade 8K TVs by the end of 2018. Key vendors have introduced the 8K TV series; however, these are not consumer versions. Vendors will launch consumer-grade 8K TVs, in addition to 8K compatible content and devices. The 8K TVs are expected to be released at niche price points, and only for customized orders.

The futuristic TV technologies. Micro LED is a new-generation display technology, a miniaturized LED with matrix. In simple terms, the LED backlight is thinner, miniaturized, and arrayed, with the LED unit smaller than 100 µm. Each pixel is individually addressed and driven to emit light (self-emitting), just like OLED. As a popular product in the LED display industry, micro LED is regarded as a leader in the next-generation display technology. A large number of manufacturers have paid attention to micro LED, which has promising market prospects. Although many manufacturers are only just tuning into the benefits of OLED, high-end OEMs are almost certainly eyeing up micro LED as their next-generation display technology. Despite the promising outlook, micro LED is still faced with a huge number of technical bottlenecks. There are also heavy investments being made into refining flexible OLED and bezel-less displays that might not make micro LED the highest priority for every manufacturer. Even so, it seems likely that this technology will be the one the industry will eventually adopt in the longer term.

LED companies have turned to develop mini LED, a relatively mature transitional technology. The mini LED, or sub-millimeter light emitting diode, is a transitional technology between traditional LED and micro LED, and an improved version of traditional LED backlight. In terms of manufacturing process, mini LED has a higher yield rate compared with micro LED. It is also suitable for notch design and highly curved backlight when coupling with flexible substrates. The feature of local dimming also helps mini LED products have better color rendering performance. For LCD panels, mini LED technology enables more categories of HDR, and mini LED products can be as thin as OLED ones, saving power as well. In terms of mass production, it is easier for the technology, which is less difficult than micro LED, to achieve mass production. Most of the existing equipment can be used for mass production of mini LED. In addition, mini LED is more economical due to its potential in the LCD display backlight market.

Air Conditioners – On the Innovation Bandwagon

Innovative product features and emerging technologies have catapulted the growth of the cooling industry and transformed the way in which new products on the market can improve people’s lives. Within the last year the industry has seen the introduction of new technologies to increase cooling and comfort, but what customers need and want is continually changing.

As industries of all sorts adopt greener standards, air conditioner manufacturers are doing their part to ensure that climate control technology is not contributing to global climate change. Improving air conditioners efficiency is nothing new. Earlier the manufacturers have been working to boost the efficiency of their devices. Initially motivated by rising energy costs, the focus on efficiency today is geared toward lowering carbon emissions for environmental reasons. There has been consistent growth in the demand for energy-efficient products, much of it in the commercial construction market, where new spaces must meet legal energy requirements. Another stream of demand is coming from homeowners or business owners retrofitting their facilities. The residential and retrofit markets often require flexible systems that fit into small or limited spaces without the need for extensive dismantling and reconstruction. This is leading to increased demand for modular, ductless heating, and cooling systems. These systems offer more customization and flexibility than is possible with a conventional system – and they can decrease energy costs, too.

While an ice-powered air conditioner might sound natural, a solar-powered air conditioner sounds like an oxymoron. The ice-powered air conditioners freeze gallons of water to cool a building, and use the existing air conditioning unit as its backup. Meanwhile, thermally powered air conditioner is another emerging trend. It uses solar panels to power a double-effect chiller, and if it runs short, it can draw on natural gas as a backup. Both options claim to use less energy and result in lower costs than conventional, electric-powered AC systems. Of all the new technologies, some stand out more than others. The most popular air conditioners in residential and light commercial properties right now are wall-mounted, mini-split ductless systems. These systems have been used for decades in Europe and Asia, but they have been slower to catch on in the United States of America. They are inarguably efficient and take up less room.

Researchers have developed a water-based airconditioning system that cools air to as low as 18°C without energy-intensive compressors and chemical refrigerants at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering. The team’s airconditioning system is claimed to be a cost-effective and sustainable solution to regulating ambient air conditions. According to NUS, the system consumes about 40 percent less electricity than current compressor-based air conditioners and negates the use of chemical refrigerants including chlorofluorocarbon and hydrochlorofluorocarbon for cooling. The system also generates drinking water while it cools ambient air. The new system first uses an innovative membrane technology to remove moisture from humid outdoor air. The dehumidified air is then cooled via a dew-point cooling system that uses water as the cooling medium instead of chemical refrigerants. Unlike vapor compression air conditioners, the system does not release hot air to the environment. Instead, a cool air stream that is comparatively less humid than environmental humidity is discharged – negating the effect of micro-climate. This cooling technology can be easily tailored for all types of weather conditions, from humid climate in the tropics to arid climate in the deserts. While it can be used for indoor living and commercial spaces, it can also be easily scaled up to provide air conditioning for clusters of buildings in an energy-efficient manner. This technology is also highly suitable for confined spaces.

The rise of smart technology has been warmly received by technology enthusiasts and has now become a part of everyday life even for the less tech savvy users. Over the last few years the introduction of smart technology into the heating and cooling industry is seen. It is inevitable that in the future these smart technologies will continue to evolve and become integrated into people’s homes – this year voice activated technology has boomed in popularity and the future air conditioning units could be controlled through simple voice activation commands, allowing people to control their home comfort levels with ease. Having a house that looks stylish (both inside and out) is high on the majority of homeowner’s priority lists at the moment. The heating and cooling industry has taken on board this lifestyle trend and units are starting to get smaller, lighter, and more attractive, with a much larger choice on the design of the unit. In the future, emphasis will remain on products becoming smaller with more design options to fit in with trends, multiple colours, and personalisation so they seamlessly fit into the pre-existing design of buildings.

Trends in the air conditioning industry seem to indicate that ductless devices will catch on as consumers are increasingly interested in green, efficient technologies in general. As with most other green technologies, the cost to both the customer and the environment is often lower in the long run. For an industry where there are so many benefits to being more efficient, it makes sense that the manufacturers are jumping on the innovation bandwagon. Certain manufacturers are warming up to environmental protection and coming up with efficient solutions.

The Era of Smart Appliances

The product innovations based on technology and performance are the major factors that have a positive impact on the global smart home appliances market. Vendors offering home appliances are currently focusing on technological innovations in the field of electronics to add more value to home appliances and to enhance their functionality. Over the years, the ability to control home appliances by using internet and smartphones has garnered the attention of the consumers. This rising demand for convenient products has led to introduction of smart home appliances and the vendors are increasingly concentrating on advanced technologies. Users can download the relevant apps on mobile devices and can connect their smart home appliances such as refrigerators, microwave ovens, washing machines, dryers, and air conditioners through wi-fi.

The smart homes market has exploded in 2017 and is expected to be the name of the game in 2018. While appliances businesses have been talking about smart technology the past year, 2018 is the year when buyers will finally see what is in store. Voice assistant is on the rise. With a huge influx of cloud integrations, improvements in natural language processing, as well as the increasing presence of assistants in smartphones, voice control is expected to be the primary driver for the smart home in the year ahead.

Most of the technology is being applied to kitchen appliances. This includes ovens that homeowners will be able to turn on and preheat from a remote location using an app on their phone. Consumers will also be able to remotely operate their dishwasher and even see if they need milk or eggs while they are out grocery shopping, as some refrigerators will feature cameras. Some of these apps will also be able to activate by voice command so that one can tell their oven when to turn on. Only a few years ago, guided cooking was relegated to countertop smart appliances and accessories that could take amateur chefs through every step of a recipe. While smart refrigerators, ranges, and ovens have been on the market for years, they are just now catching up with what putting connectivity in a major appliance might mean for busy people. In addition to internet connectivity, manufacturers are also adding full-color touchscreens, which have a 7-inch LCD touchscreen. The promise has always been that someday refrigerators will be able to choose a recipe for users based on their preferences and the groceries they actually have stocked inside, then send it to the oven for preheating, while on one of many screens, videos play to help one master unfamiliar techniques. Hence, for kitchen appliances, 2018 will see more and more smart technology and new ways of cooking.

Continuous product innovations have led to the development of advanced washing machines that increase comfort levels and convenience for users. Companies are coming up with advanced, innovative features. Introduction of smart washing machines has led to a major increase in demand. 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. Smart technology is enticing a portion of the customer base to replace their old machines with smart connected counterparts. Smart washing machines have gradually started penetrating into the market. Leading players have incorporated several sophisticated technologies in their washing machines in a bid to differentiate their products from competition and consolidate their customer base. The push by regulatory and government authorities to adopt smart devices is also contributing to overall growth.

Features such as auto optimal wash, smart control, eco-check, smart diagnosis, smart nudges, automatic detergent dispensing, power wash system, and steam care functions have been launched. Many models are also incorporating self-cleaning elements. These features often use soaking and high-speed spinning to clean them without the use of chemicals. Programs with quicker cycles but running similar efficiency are being added. Considering consumer’s busy lifestyle many appliance makers are introducing speedy cycles/quick programs. The segment is living the twin-drum age – be it twin washers or washer and dryer below one another. The latest technologies also help in reducing the usage of materials such as detergents and softeners. The quality of water used is also monitored. The hardness of water is determined. Consumers are getting options to add clothing mid-cycle, lower energy usage, optimize wash cycles, and control cycles remotely. 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 clothes is done with the help of this air and steam.

Smart water heaters come as a logical next step in the shift toward the fully connected home. Water heaters consume high levels of energy in households, often exceeding domestic activities such as cooking, refrigeration, and lighting. Therefore, the development of smart water heaters is beneficial in bringing about energy efficiency in water heaters. A water heater can now have bluetooth and internet connectivity and interact with smartphones, allowing homeowners more control and contractors easier diagnostic capabilities and some also offer touchscreen operation. Smart devices communicate with users by means of a cell phone application and learn hot water usage schedules. Customers can switch the equipment on or off through the cell phone application. It is also designed to report energy utilization and other data. Smart water heaters now come equipped with various sensors and options, such as, remote temperature adjustment, pattern learning, mechanical self-diagnosis, leak detection, and self-cleaning. Thus, the evolution of electric water heaters into smart devices may lead to considerable savings in terms of electricity consumption. Many major manufacturers are joining the smart water heaters market with the latest innovations. There are even smart devices that can be retrofit to an existing water heater to add some smart technology features until it is time to replace the unit.

Way Forward

Consumer electronics, home appliances, and air conditioners makers are integrating their products with the internet technology to produce a breed of smart appliances. Another rung in this evolutionary ladder is personal assistants which project their exemplary AI and machine learning capabilities to control functionalities and appliances around the house. From a manufacturer’s standpoint, it makes sense: they can deliver improvements via over-the-air updates, get data about how a consumer is using the appliance, and troubleshoot problems before sending out a repairperson. The partnership with other companies is a key trend that will contribute to the market’s growth in the coming years. Several manufacturers are working in partnership with other companies to introduce smart products. The significant increase will be the result of manufacturers and service providers altering their selling strategy, from device-first to solution-first. This means that rather than trying to sell a simple thermostat, these channel players will start engaging more in-depth with consumers to offer solutions and ecosystems of products that are not only compelling but also indispensable. To achieve this combination these ecosystems will be more horizontal. For example, rather than just selling a thermostat, service providers will sell warranty and maintenance services, as well as real-time energy saving statistics and tips. Moreover, hubs will no longer have linear functionality. Instead, hubs will have features such as video surveillance, smart speaker capabilities, security sirens, and potentially home wi-fi.

The new age consumer is more deliberating, concerned, and spoiled for choices than his/her counterpart from even just a decade ago. Meanwhile, the market has long held a very unconcerned approach toward the question of ecological responsibility. Today, amid a global discussion on ecological conservation and responsible manufacturing procedures, green has evolved to become an all-encompassing movement. Realistically, home appliances manufacturers that invest in eco-friendly fabrication procedures and operational upgrades that do not contribute significantly to their carbon footprint will find this enlightened customer segment poised as their target demographic within the next 2 years.

Manufacturers are constantly improving efficiency and productivity levels at their respective manufacturing facilities. Wide serving automation and robotic inputs across production lines, inspection cycles, maintenance, and logistics are being introduced. Also, this type of integration ties in neatly with the growth of the allied automation and robotics industries, as the latter is projected to grow exponentially within the next 5 years. The singular concern is the inclusive costs and the time needed to implement these broad changes.

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