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'Speed' Is Appliance Buzzword Of Suppliers At Builders Show

Speed was a dominant concept among the major appliance companies exhibiting at the International Builders Show -- speed in cooking, as three full-line white-goods suppliers highlighted quick-cooking ovens, and speed in communication, as suppliers announced research into networking appliances with the Internet and with other household products.

Although the Dallas event was short on appliance exhibitors -- only about a dozen majap firms were on the show floor, and several of those showcased the same white goods they had introduced at last spring's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show - the suppliers that were there had a lot to talk about.

On the heels of a year that saw unexpected record shipment levels for major appliances, marketing execs were buoyant about prospects for sales in 2000. With the new technology suddenly flooding the appliance business, helping to shorten the replacement cycle, several suppliers told TWICE they are looking for further gains this year.

In terms of new product introductions at the show, "speed cooking" was the buzzword. GE Appliances, which made a big splash at last year's Builders Show by announcing its then-unnamed Advantium oven, showed a built-in version of the Advantium in Dallas, with the new model due in stores in August.

Maytag took the wraps off its long-awaited Jenn-Air Accellis oven, set for full distribution by June. And Whirlpool arrived at the show with a speed-cook oven of its own, planned for late-summer availability.

All three full-line suppliers were also talking about their recent links with computer-technology companies to provide networking for their appliances.

As previously reported, Whirlpool is partnering with both Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems in what it calls a Networked Home Solutions Initiative, to develop Internet-enabled appliances based on Cisco's Internet home platform and Sun's Java and Jini technologies.

At the Builders Show, Whirlpool showed the same prototype Internet-connected refrigerator that Sun had on view at the Consumer Electronics Show, with a portable handheld device set into the refrigerator's door.

Said Whirlpool chairman/CEO David Whitwam, "These agreements to jointly develop our next generation of e-enabled products and services are just one example of how our company is creating new growth opportunities based on serving consumers."

GE and Maytag announced similar agreements during the Builders Show. GE is inking with Microsoft to develop technology to "interconnect home appliances and other consumer devices," according to GE, which will join the Universal Plug and Play Forum.

At the show, GE displayed concept "smart" appliances, including a web-enabled refrigerator with detachable web pad that would allow consumers to access the Internet as well as monitor and control their appliances remotely, and a voice-recognition microwave oven that could read food packages' UPC codes. Both prototypes could self-diagnose operating problems and alert GE's Answer Center for service.

"The development of this technology will offer tremendous benefits to GE Appliance consumers," said president/

CEO Larry Johnston. "Imagine getting to work, turning on your desktop computer, and receiving a message from your home appliance network that you left an oven burner on. With Universal Plug and Play technology you could remotely access the oven from your work computer and turn it off."

Maytag, which joined the Universal Plug and Play effort last year, is also working with Microsoft to develop "smart" appliances. Maytag chairman/CEO Lloyd Ward commented, "The digital world of web-enabled, networked appliances and service that ease the work of life and enhance the joy of living."

Ward noted, "It's exciting to partner with others who share a commitment to deliver to consumers the benefits of extending Internet connectivity into the home."

Shortly before the show, Maytag announced a separate alliance with e-Vend.net, the developer of technology that enables network servers to monitor and control vending machines and commercial appliances via the Internet. The two companies are also working on developing applications of the technology for possible use in residential products.

"Across home and commercial appliances, we are building the capability to deliver intelligent appliances and meaningful benefits to consumers at home and away from home," Ward said.