China Focus: Chinese brands reveal "smart" appliances atCanton Fair


- At the Canton Fair, the country's largest trade fair and abarometer for Chinese exports, leading domestic appliance brands showed off their latest"smart home" products as the sector battles an export slump.
A report issued by the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machineryand Electronic Products said smart models -- devices that can be controlled and monitoredusing mobile Internet connections, cloud computing and big data -- are a major highlight ofthe session.
Xinhua found that smart products account for roughly half of the products exhibited byleading home appliance brands at the biannual event, which opened its 117th session inGuangzhou on April 15 and runs through May 5.
Machinery and electronic products, including home appliances, make up the bulk of China'sexports, which saw a startling drop of 14.6 percent in March.
"We're working hard to maintain growth despite the tough export environment by makinggood use of the powerful Internet," said Zhang Qingfu, vice president of Haier Group.
At its company booth, Haier touted its smart home systems, including "Smart Kitchen," "Smart Air" and "Smart Care" lines, which allow users to control appliances via mobiledevices.
The "Smart Care" system includes sensors that can be installed around windows, doors,bathrooms and electrical sockets, allowing customers to control and monitor home security,appliances and water use remotely through a mobile app.
Midea, Haier's major domestic rival, is also aggressively promoting smart home productsunder its "M-SMART" line.
"By 2016, 80 percent of our products will be Internet-controlled," a senior engineer withMidea told Xinhua.
"In the future, maybe we'll sell equipment at cost and make money by providing softwareto improve the user experience," he said.
Other novel appliances at the fair include a new air conditioner from Chigo that canautomatically report malfunctions to the repair center and upgrade its software online.
The new products answer the central government's call for innovation in China'smanufacturing industry, which remains synonymous with cheap, low-end products. Duringthe parliamentary session in March, Premier Li Keqiang unveiled an action plan tointegrate Internet technology with modern manufacturing.
Compared with other exporters, leading home appliance brands are more optimistic aboutthis year's foreign orders. In January and February, Haier recorded export growth of 29percent year on year, compared with 4 percent in the home appliance industry as a whole,said Zhang, attributing the impressive figure to the company's innovation.
Similarly, Hisense, another leading Chinese brand, saw increases of 17 percent, 37 percentand 17 percent in its exports of TV sets, washing machines and air conditioners,respectively, in the first three months.
"It's quite common for large manufacturers with well-known brands and technology toachieve sustained growth," said Zhu Dan, a senior executive with Hisense.
Smart technology is also being used by manufacturers to gauge consumer demand.
Huang Xingke, president of Chigo, said the company collects information from global usersof its smart air conditioners on a cloud platform to identify their preferences. Data on userhabits and settings can be automatically transmitted to the cloud, where it is stored andprocessed, and used to develop the company's market strategy.
Like its participants, the 58-year-old trade show has turned to online strategies to expandits clout.
"Considering the sluggish global trade, we invested heavily this year to advertise on globalsocial networking sites and search engines," said Liu Jianjun, spokesman for the CantonFair.