Michael, what are currently the three biggest trends in the home appliance industry?
Currently I see a strong trend toward data-based product development. If you look at traditional product development cycles, you notice that many of the decisions made by manufacturers are based on surveys. Manufacturers are trying to understand how consumers use products. This is currently changing in a big way because products are increasingly connected. Companies today have a much better understanding of how consumers use their products based on usage data. And this knowledge drives product development and has a strong influence on the manufacturers’ business models.
Another trend is that companies are increasingly seeing themselves as service companies. They try to establish a direct relationship with consumers. By becoming a service company, companies can also add subscriptions and physical consumables to their product portfolio beyond the one-time hardware sell. A good example is what Tovala has done – they offer food subscriptions. Another example could be Hestan Cue offering culinary education from a company like the Culinary Institute of America – while that classes are not paid content today, that could be a premium offering in the future.
And there’s one more trend: More and more products entering the market are largely software-based. For a long time, products were made purely of hardware, meaning metal. Products weren’t built to be updateable or to enable new digital features. What we’re now seeing are products entering the market that can continue to be improved after purchase and throughout their entire lifecycle.
There are lots of trends involving software and connectivity. Are there also new developments in hardware?
Yes, of course there are. First of all, there are new cooking technologies. For example, manufacturers are developing appliances with new microwave and induction technology for more precise cooking results.
Secondly, we’re seeing an increase in technologies that use artificial intelligence, such as machine vision. We’re seeing a lot of startups in this area, and large companies are trying to embrace this trend.
Thirdly, the way consumers use home appliances is changing over time. That’s why I think, for example, that projection technologies such as BSH’s PAI and language assistance systems will be increasingly used in the kitchen. These technologies will change the way consumers behave in their kitchens. Many of these trends are software- and content-driven but go hand in hand with hardware development.
What topics relating to the kitchen of the future have yet to be explored?
Mainly, I see gaps in the area of food data. Are there any companies that already have a comprehensive data profile on consumer behavior? Why isn’t there already a comprehensive profile on personal eating habits that you can carry around with you and use when you eat out at a restaurant, shop at a grocery store, or cook at home? This could be data about tastes, eating habits, preferences, or food intolerances. Some of this data exists but it’s scattered among different companies. But what if you combined this data? In any case, it would be exciting but it is also worth mentioning the privacy risks about making this information available to third parties. As consumers become more wary of sharing personal data, a universal food profile might be a difficult end-goal.
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of standards in this area and lots of isolated knowledge. You basically need a universal backend platform that connects the home appliances to the personal taste profile and consumer behavior. There are startups such as Innit in the U.S. that are working on these ideas, but so far there’s no industry standard.
How will our kitchens look in, say, fifteen years?
The kitchen could continue to be the center of the home and become a social hub where the family gathers and shares meals – even if consumers habits change towards less in-home cooking, the kitchen will likely be the central gathering place. The kitchen space could change accordingly and be adapted to these social conditions. Another tendency would be to make the kitchen much smaller because people in the future order their food automatically by pressing a button and the food is made elsewhere. This could mean that kitchen appliances become smaller or more automated – for example, cooking robots – and that the format of the kitchen fundamentally changes. The kitchen is then used solely for cooking food that’s been processed and prepared elsewhere.
Corporations today are increasingly looking for external innovative support and are often collaborating with startups. Is that the right way to develop the kitchen of the future?
Large corporations today are trying to reinvent themselves and want to incorporate new ideas in their DNA through partnerships and innovation networks. If it’s not just a cosmetic gesture for the purpose of enhancing their financial reporting, then it’s a really good idea. For example, take the cooperation between BSH and the Techstars Accelerator. This appears to be a really good approach that brings a breath of fresh air into BSH and establishes an innovation ecosystem. Large companies certainly don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. They have to look around and create a network out of partners. And I think young companies and startups are an important part of that.