Panasonic offers Android-linked air conditioners, refrigerators and washers

The Japanese electronics maker's new home appliance lineup networks with Wi-Fi and touch-card technology

Japan's Panasonic on Tuesday announced a new lineup of wired home appliances controlled with a smartphone app, including a Wi-Fi air conditioner that can be set from outside the home, and a washing machine that downloads wash cycles for different detergents.

The company's new "X-series" air conditioners, which are the one-room units widely used in Japan and Asia, require a special wireless adaptor that connects to a home network. A host of new devices including washing machines, refrigerators, scales and blood pressure monitors rely on NFC (near field communication) technology, widely used for electronic payments and train passes, to interact with Pansonic's official Android app.

"Technology and products such as the Internet, cellphones, and smartphones are rapidly spreading into our lives. Our home appliances will also change," said Yukio Nakashima, a Panasonic executive in consumer marketing.

The new lineup is to go on sale in Japan over the next three months. Panasonic would not comment on its plans for other markets, but said it will display home appliances for the first time at the IFA electronics show in Germany that begins next week, and is already an established brand in the European market. The company began selling its home appliances in the U.S. last year.

While the new air conditioners are fully wired and can be controlled remotely over the Internet via the "Panasonic Smart App" on Android or the iPhone, the other devices offer less dramatic connectivity through their touch-card interfaces, such as uploading data to the company's servers for viewing later.

A new line of refrigerators, for example, can keep track of how often their doors have been opened and cooling efficiency over time, while two blood pressure recorders can upload their daily measurements. New washing machines can download instructions for different types of detergents or use the app to store different wash settings.

The company has already released a rice cooker and steam oven that use the NFC technology to transfer recipes and settings. Like other electronics companies, its audio and digital products also connect online.

All the devices interact through the freely available Android app, which also offers user manuals and problem-solving tips. As with the new refrigerators, the app can in many cases be used to track the power consumption and efficiency of appliances, in line with Panasonic's efforts to brand itself as a environmentally friendly electronics maker.

The company did not release official prices for the new products but provided estimates that show they will be high-end merchandise. Panasonic said the air conditioners will likely cost in the range of ¥210,000 to ¥340,000 (US$2,650 to US$4,290), while the washing machines will be around ¥350,000.

While many in the industry have speculated that a new breed of home servers will eventually emerge to connect and manage the growing myriad of wired home appliances, Panasonic is increasingly targeting smart phones together with its cloud service for that purpose.

Panasonic has launched a new line of mobile phones and tablets under the "Eluga" brand in Japan and Europe. The phones can use their RFID chips to interact with the company's appliances. The company is attempting to re-establish itself abroad in mobile phones after previously pulling out of the international market in 2005.

The phones can also interact wirelessly with its TVs and digital recorder, streaming shows and sending photos via a home network.

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Jay Alabaster

IDG News Service

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