Next: An MP3 washing machine?

Next: An MP3 washing machine?

Just when you thought it was safe to go into the laundry room -- where you'd be away from phones that do everything but park your car, because the car does that by itself -- they've gone and done it.

LG Electronics Inc. has filed patent application U.S. 2007/0118862 A1 for a "home appliance with an MP3 player comprising the MP3 player adapted for storing contents; and a washing device for washing or drying clothes, the washing device being connectable with the MP3 player and having a communication function with the MP3 player to play back the contents stored in the MP3 player."

That's right, a washing machine (or dryer -- they're not picky) with a built-in MP3 player.

"In answer to your question, no, I don't think that there is any ongoing trend involving the addition of MP3 players to everything that doesn't move," said Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates, a consumer technology and market research firm in Dallas. "On the other hand, it's not too far-fetched to think that someone might want to listen to their music while participating in a mundane chore, such as doing the laundry. But, honestly, I don't get it -- why not just crank up the stereo or clip your iPod to your belt?"

"To me, it doesn't make a world of sense," agreed Tom Dair, president of Smart Design, an international design, product development and brand communications firm in San Francisco. "Whistling while you work is helpful, but having the complexity of an MP3 player in your washing machine seems like a mismatch. If you love music, you probably have a wireless system set up in your home, so why bring in this device, which is probably located in a small room?

"Another disconnect is that a washer/dryer is not a portable item," Dair added. "An MP3 player makes sense if you're walking down the street, but I'm not seeing many people on the street with a washer/dryer. You're adding a mobile feature to a product that is anchored to the ground in a specific place where you don't spend a lot of time relaxing, or even sitting. But if it makes your clothes come out cleaner, that would be great."

Predictably more upbeat about this development was John I. Taylor, spokesman for patent applicant LG Electronics USA in Linconshire, Ill. "It's an interesting concept, and it is common in the technology field to apply for patents for new and interesting concepts," he said. "It is way too soon to say whether a product will come from the patent, but in the U.S. a washer/dryer with an MP3 player is not part of our product road map at this time," he added.

Scherf said the whole thing reminded him of announcements a few years ago of refrigerators with computer screens in the door. Taylor indicated that Scherf must be recalling the LG Internet Refrigerator, announced in 2001 with a list price of US$9,999.

"It was launched in Korea and test-marketed in the U.S. but did not catch on and was frankly overpriced," recalled Taylor. "But we kept the concept with our line of TV refrigerators, which do not have Internet browsers. Our latest, launched in May, is the HDTV Refrigerator, which is the first in the world with a high-definition screen."

That's right -- during the past two months, only a suggested retail price of $3,999 has separated you from owning an LG HDTV Refrigerator, an upright unit with side by-side-doors and the capacity of 26 cubic feet. The larger, right-hand door features a 15-in. high-definition LCD screen and FM radio with remote control, a cable connection and a DVD connection.

And on the smaller left-hand door, just above the ice/water dispenser, is an additional 4-in. screen that can display weather forecasts personalized for the owner's location, a recipe bank and various organizational tools and reminders. It will also display family pictures downloaded via a USB port, replacing the hard copy you had probably previously stuck there with low-tech refrigerator magnets.

There's no mention of MP3 functionality -- although there is a vegetable crisper.

"I understand, anecdotally, that TVs are becoming more popular in the kitchen," admitted Scherf, "So it is not too outlandish an idea to install a TV in a refrigerator, since it would save counter space or avoid the trouble of installing a drop-down screen from a cabinet. Small apartments may also be a factor. But I don't foresee a mass market for such a thing."

"They're selling very well at Best Buy, Home Depot and similar places," said Taylor.

At least they haven't added cameras yet -- late-night refrigerator raids would never be the same. But in the meantime, Dair, for one, isn't laughing.

"The consumer electronics industry often pushes technology out there simply because they can do it, and if they are persistent, some of it will catch on, although it may not be a hit from Day 1," he said.

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Lamont Wood

Computerworld
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