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The Organic Role of Home Appliances & Personal Care Electronics
By Terence Ang - on 08 Oct 2010, 10:02am

Many a time we're covering technologies that we consider 'dry', be it computer components like processors and graphics cards, consumer electronics like TVs and game consoles, or communication products like smartphones and networking equipment. These are the types of products you know, you can never allow exposed to the rain or a sudden flood (we do get the occasional floods, don't we?).

Anyway, recently, upon my return from the 50th IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, Germany, I begin to marvel at how we've often ignored the technologies that have to work with 'wet or organic elements' such as the washing machine, coffee machines, microwave ovens and of course, the electric shaver. Probably one of the reasons why they're often overlooked is because they're so attached to us (sometimes literally), that we would see them as an integral always-on element in our lives. Often they're gender-specific products (like a shaver) or location-specific (kitchen or bathroom appliances). I believe one key reason is that we don't buy them as often as we buy a smartphone or a notebook, as they are built to last long cycles of intense usage and almost everyday.

These products are categorized under two main areas: Home Appliances (which are basically washing machines, vacuum cleaners, coffee making machines and cooker hobs) and Personal Care (shavers, hairdryers and beauty care appliances). While 'dry' electronics are often seen as detached between the user and the product, simply because we use it, we derive entertainment or productivity from it, and then we set it aside and be on our way, 'wet' or 'organic' electronics have to take the interaction a step deeper in the role they play. Often it requires an interaction with liquid, chemical compounds, our hair, our skin, and so on. The dynamism of this interaction is often taken for granted, let alone noticed in the ecosystem between dry and wet-friendly electronics.

Electric shavers for example -- like the Philips SensoTouch 3D which I was fortunate enough to try -- now allow you to shave while taking a shower, add shaving gel or foam and even soak the shaver head (with all its "GyroFlex 3D contour-following rotating heads" openly exposed) in a chemical cleaning solution. What's even more impressive is that the electronics on these products are functioning smarter and longer, some with wireless and networkable features, contactless charging mechanisms and complex components (the SensoTouch 3D for example, can give up to 1 hour of shaving time on a full charge, has an LED indicator and has three different tracks on each head -- slots for normal hair, channels for long hair and holes for stubbles). 

The idea that there is a movement within the electronics sector today that "want" to create familiar home products and expose themselves to harsh, damp and wet environments, come in contact with your skin and follicles (while giving you the closest shave, the best coffee brew, the freshest linen, the safe-to-eat roast turkey) is quite remarkable (and often taken for granted). Not only that, manufacturers like Philips, Samsung, LG, Bosch, Miele and so on are figuring out ways to keep the electricity usage low, without compromising on experience and quality.

Miele for instance, has raised the hope that home appliances in homes can now "talk" to each other on usage patterns, and automate their usage times accordingly based on electricity tariff plans to help households save money and energy. The company launched a washing machine and tumble dryer at IFA 2010 in September, as part of the SmartGrid initiative. In other words, it is possible someday, when entire home appliances across the neighborhood can automate their usage patterns such that they work only during times when electricity tariffs are at their lowest, thus saving households money for better things.

In retrospect, there is a dynamic interactivity between home appliances and personal care products with our five senses far more than the 'dry' electronics we see and touch today. Perhaps the next time you gel up and shave in the shower or brew the odd bean pack with your coffee machine, take some time to wonder at how organic and ultra wet-friendly this segment of the electronics sector has grown and evolved, while the 'dry' fellas continue to keep their feet off the ground and pretend that they're brainier than their 'wet' counterparts.

Terence Ang

Terence Ang / Former Supervising Editor for HWM, HardwareZone.com & GameAxis

Terence Ang used to be the Supervising Editor for the New Media division in Singapore, where he worked with the editorial teams behind HardwareZone.com and HWM the magazine. In that role, he looked at ways the teams in Singapore can collaborate with the Editors in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. Terence is currently the Product Manager but contributes to the blog section whenever he can (or finds something interesting to talk about).