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Panasonic Ambles Into the Smart Home With New Appliance System

Japanese electronics manufacturer Panasonic has launched an app for cloud-based services that will let consumers control home appliances using their Android smartphones.

Named “Panasonic Smart App,” it will be available from September — but only in Japan.

It can be used by owners of smartphones running Android 2.3.3 or higher supporting Near Field Communications (NFC) or Sony’s FeliCa contactless RFID smart card system, which is used in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States.

“This looks a little bit like a gimmicky move to differentiate their products,” Andrew Eisner, director of community and content at Retrevo, told TechNewsWorld. “The battle for the living room is expanding into the whole house.”

If the Panasonic smart appliances came to the United States, they might be only for the well-heeled, however, as “you’d need to get new appliances, even those few that came with network connectivity likely wouldn’t interface with Panasonic’s service,” remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Hello? Is That the Saucepan?

The Panasonic Smart App is an expansion of the cloud services the company provides for the latest models of its 3-Star Bistro steam microwave oven and steam rice cooker, which were launched in June.

The app will work with compatible home appliances from Panasonic. These will include Panasonic’s X Series room air conditioners, its NR-F557XV top-mount refrigerator, the NA-VX8200 and NA-VT8200 drum-type washer-dryers. Others are Panasonic’s EW-FA43 body composition monitor, EW-NK63 calorie meter, and EW-BW53 blood pressure monitor.

Capabilities will include controlling compatible air conditioners from outside the home, setting the preferred washing cycle, creating graphs tracking users’ weight and calories consumed by activities, and checking device malfunctions, Panasonic said.

The Panasonic Smart App will also let users download the latest information, such as device settings or recipes, from Panasonic’s cloud at any time.

Cupertino Will Get Some Love, Too

The Panasonic Smart App will be extended to let iPhone users control compatible air conditioners as well, Panasonic said.

It’s not quite clear how that will come about, as iOS does not yet include NFC; rumors have it that Apple will include NFC in the upcoming iPhone 5, which it’s expected to launch in September.

Still, “with the inclusion of NFC in the iPhone 5, we may see more interest in NFC,” Retrevo’s Eisner said. “Perhaps that will be more along the lines of using NFC for shopping, but nevertheless, smartphones offer a very good opportunity to get into the smart home.”

OK, House, What’s 2 x 2?

Smart home systems and services will bring in revenues of US$7.6 billion in the United States this year, Strategy Analytics estimates. The figure for 2011 was $4.9 billion.

Several utility companies have replaced their existing electricity meters with smart meters, and in May AT&T announced plans to offer remote home monitoring and automation services under its Digital Life service.

The Light That Failed

Though it launched on the Android platform, Panasonic’s new system doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Android@Home, a project Google announced at its I/O developer conference in May 2011 that focused on home automation. This would include Android-connected light bulbs, which consumers would be able to control from their smartphone or tablet.

A company called LightingScience signed on to create Android-connected lighting, but it has since removed any mention of Android from its website.

“Like a lot of things Google has done, [Android@home] was an interesting concept that was poorly supported,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld. “It appears to have evaporated or flowed under Project Tungsten as a result.”

Project Tungsten is an Android device for Google’s streaming music service that will give consumers control over music playback within their Android@home networks.

Neither Android@home nor Project Tungsten were mentioned during this year’s Google I/O developer’s conference.

Google did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

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