The Electrolux Infinity I-Kitchen refrigerator, launched in Brazil, has a touch screen on the top door. Picture: Electrolux
The Electrolux Infinity I-Kitchen refrigerator, launched in Brazil, has a touch screen on the top door. Picture: Electrolux

Electrolux, the 100-year-old Swedish maker of home appliances, is pouring investment into connected ovens and refrigerators that can be controlled with one's voice or an app.

Instead of one turning knobs and pressing buttons, the appliances can be controlled by a voice assistant such as Amazon's Alexa or Google's Home to turn on and off and adjust temperatures.

The technology is still in its infancy and pales in comparison with similar advances made, for example, in the car industry, where self-driving cars are close to becoming a reality.

But the head of strategy and innovation at Electrolux, David Cronstrom, thinks the market for voice-controlled and connected devices will grow exponentially in the coming years.

By 2025 he expects "a very large share" of the company's sales to come from these types of appliances.

Last year, the company spent part of its 300-million-krona (R466m) increase in research and development investments on this segment.

"I think in a few years from now, people will take it for granted that these products are connected," Cronstrom said at the company's Future Kitchen event in Stockholm. "If my children walk up to a product that isn't connected, they think its broken."

Electrolux hopes voice-controlled and connected appliances will give it an edge in anticipating customers' future needs, as the system can tell when a stove or fan is about to break down and propose a fix.

It could also be a boon for selling more products and services such as spare parts and system upgrades. "Before, when we sold a refrigerator, we wouldn't hear from the customer again," said Cronstrom.

"Now we have the opportunity to have a relationship after the first sale."

The aim is to raise the level of interaction between the customers and their homes further, allowing, for example, kitchen appliances to be connected to phone cameras, recipe apps and how-to-cook tutorials.

Electrolux offers several connected devices, including the CombiSteam Pro Smart oven, which retails for about $3,000 (R43,000).

Bloomberg