Posts Tagged ‘appliances’

2012: The year in gear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Every year the Nikkei Marketing Journal (NMJ) ranks the year’s best new products and services like a sumo tournament, naming a “yokozuna” (champion) for eastern and western Japan. We combed through that, as well as magazines like Trendy (also from Nikkei) and Dime, for the game-changing gear of 2012 in Japan. Some trends we’re noticing are compact, cheaper goods that offer a comparative experience to the full size ones they’re designed to replace and “smart” appliances that work in tandem with smart phones, which had a big year too.

Honda N Box

The kei car from Honda doesn’t look like a kei car. Kei, or “light,” cars are ubiquitous in Japan; unless you’re planning to log long hours on the highway (for which you could just use the train), a small, light car with no power is perfect for traffic-clogged, narrow streets. Also, they cost a lot less to register and insure. But the innovation of the N Box – some 200,000 were sold this year – is that it is much roomier than your average kei. Not American-style minivan roomy, but maybe mini-minivan roomy. Ranked #3 for eastern Japan by NMJ and #12 by Trendy.

Panasonic “smart appliances”

Panasonic launched a new series of appliances that can be controlled remotely by an Android smartphone – meaning you can use your phone to turn on the rice cooker or the air conditioner before you get home (or check that you’ve turned them off). There’s also a scale that sends data to your phone, so you can track your weight-loss progress. We’re not sure what you’d want to communicate to the fridge that’s also part of the lineup, though. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

Mirrorless cameras

2012 saw the market for mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras explode. Mirrorless cameras offered an affordable, compact alternative to a comparatively bulky DSLRs. Pretty much every major manufacturer now has a model out, and this year the prices fell under that crucial ¥50,000 mark. Gear magazine Dime name checks Nikon’s 1 V1, Olympus’ PEN Lite E-PL3, Panasonic’s Lumix GF5X, and Sony’s NEX-C3D in its best buys of 2012 roundup. Featured in Dime’s “My Valuable Products 2012.”

7-inch tablets

Smaller, cheaper tablets won over consumers who had been reluctant to buy into the first generation of full-size tablets. The market was just full of them this year, including imports like Apple’s iPad mini, Samsung’s Galaxy, and Google’s Nexus 7 along with domestic offerings like Toshiba’s Regza AT570 and Sharp’s Aquos Pad SHT 21. Ranked #1 for western Japan by NMJ.

Toyota Aqua

This compact hybrid edged out Toyota’s pricier Prius this year to become Japan’s top-selling car, with 24,192 units sold in October alone. Ranked #16 by Trendy.

Sharp Cocorobo

Not only can this “next generation” cleaning robot be controlled remotely by your smart phone, but it also has a built in camera and wifi so you can actually watch it work through your phone (if you have absolutely nothing better to do), seeing what it sees. You could even get it to send you before and after photos of its handiwork. Ranked #29 by Trendy.

Sony 3D Headset

Sony’s futuristic 3D personal viewing headset, the HMZ-T1, which actually came out late last year, proved more popular than Sony anticipated and the company announced in February that production couldn’t keep up with demand. The company has since launched the lighter HMZ-T2. Ranked #24 by Trendy.

Nintendo WII U

This one came out too late to make the yearly round-ups, but Nintendo’s new high definition system that includes a tablet-like controller that also works on the TV looks to be another game changer.

Smartphones hook up with domestic appliances

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

The iRemocon device controls your domestic appliances via smartphone

Want to turn on the AC so that you can come home to a cool apartment, or run a bath before you even step through the door? Clever systems that allow you to remotely control your household appliances from your smartphone are now trending in Japan. The iRemocon from Glamo, Inc  has been on the market since last summer and an Android version went on the market at the end of January this year.  DENSO, working with Toyota Housing and Misawa Homes, has a  system called HEMS (home energy management system) in the pipeline, although the launch appears to have been delayed.

Apart from the rush of omnipotence it gives gadget freaks, being able to remotely dominate your domestic domain from afar also benefits the environment by encouraging increased energy efficiency. The aircon, for example, can be set to be switched off automatically during the night with a pre-programmed function (though it has to be said that there are plenty of air conditioners on the market that already enable you to do this) and the remote feature allows you to make sure you haven’t left appliances on when you’re out of the house.

Both systems use a device installed in the home that can be programmed to communicate with domestic electronic devices. Though iRemocon appears to have beaten the HEMS system to the punch with its launch last year, HEMS will provide useful data to the customer about energy consumption and CO2 emissions, giving it the edge as an environmentally friendly product.

But otaku props go to iRemocon, which gives users the ability to customize their own remote control skin on their smartphone app and also lets users record their favorite TV shows while they’re out. Another bonus of the system is that it can be used to guard against theft: When you’re on holiday you can pre-program your home lights to be switched off and on, giving the impression that the place is occupied.

Panasonic is also exploring ways to get smartphones interacting with appliances. The new SR-SX2 Series of rice cookers and NE-R Series of steam ovens (to be launched in June) are both programmable by smartphone. Simply hover the smartphone over the device to set up the cooking times. If you’re wondering why people would choose to do this rather than pushing the buttons on the device itself, the answer is that this way things are supposedly simplified. The app for these products has a database of recipes which users can choose from. Once they’ve decided on the meal they’re going to cook, the app manages the settings on the appliance for you. An attractive option for those who can’t be bothered to read the manual.


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