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Business trends

Global rivals compare clever appliances at Berlin trade show

Asia-Europe competition heats up in the race for AI-enhanced gadgets

Siemens Hausgerate touts its connected appliances at the IFA consumer electronics fair. (Photo by Hisashi Iwato)

BERLIN -- Washing machines that decide how much detergent to use and coffee makers that learn just what kind of brew is to your liking are some of the cutting-edge appliances being showcased at this year's IFA trade show here, in what promises to be a heated competition bewteen Asian and European rival electronic companies over the latest clever devices. 

The event, opened for media previews on Wednesday, is one of the world's largest consumer electronics shows, along with the annual CES expo held in Las Vegas. Last year, it drew 180 exhibitors and more than 250,000 spectators, helping vendors secure 4.7 billion euros ($5.5 billion) in orders.

Appliances that tap artificial intelligence to "think" on their own are taking center stage at the show.

Germany-based Siemens Hausgerate is unveiling a washing machine that decides how much detergent is needed based on the volume of laundry and how dirty the clothes are. The Bosch Group company also brought a coffee maker that remembers the preferences of the user and prepares coffee accordingly. Both are connected to the internet and can be controlled from a mobile app.

Miele, a German manufacturer focused on upscale appliances, is displaying an induction stove that can heat up to six pans placed anywhere on the cooktop, as well as a water-saving dishwasher that adjusts the amount of detergent automatically.

South Korean companies Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics have developed proprietary AI technologies, with plans to apply them to various products, while Chinese players such as Haier Group are also increasingly concentrating on AI.

Smart speakers, which grabbed the spotlight at last year's IFA, serve as a "hub" of connected hardware around the home, allowing AI analysis of human speech to be used to operate appliances. An increasing number of products work with such smart speakers from Amazon.com and Google. Shipments of these speakers are expected to top 100 million as early as this year.

Devices compatible with "internet of things" technology will increase by 46% from 2017 levels to 40 billion by 2020, predicts a white paper from Japan's communications ministry. And more intelligence will be sought from a connected appliance. Adding sensors allows the device to grasp its surrounding circumstances, enabling it to be spontaneously "thoughtful." Such a refrigerator would suggest recipes to the user based on the food inside, the nutritional needs, and other considerations such as the weather.

The global market for home appliances stands at roughly $1.1 trillion, with white goods like fridges accounting for nearly 40% and black goods like TVs making up the rest,  according to U.K.-based research company Euromonitor International. With growth expected in both categories, the market is expected to expand to around $1.25 trillion in 2022.

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