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China Focus: Chinese brands reveal "smart" appliances at Canton Fair

(Xinhua)    20:19, April 28, 2015

GUANGZHOU, April 28 -- At the Canton Fair, the country's largest trade fair and a barometer 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 Machinery and Electronic Products said smart models -- devices that can be controlled and monitored using mobile Internet connections, cloud computing and big data -- are a major highlight of the session.

Xinhua found that smart products account for roughly half of the products exhibited by leading home appliance brands at the biannual event, which opened its 117th session in Guangzhou on April 15 and runs through May 5.

Machinery and electronic products, including home appliances, make up the bulk of China's exports, which saw a startling drop of 14.6 percent in March.

"We're working hard to maintain growth despite the tough export environment by making good 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 mobile devices.

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 products under its "M-SMART" line.

"By 2016, 80 percent of our products will be Internet-controlled," a senior engineer with Midea told Xinhua.

"In the future, maybe we'll sell equipment at cost and make money by providing software to improve the user experience," he said.

Other novel appliances at the fair include a new air conditioner from Chigo that can automatically report malfunctions to the repair center and upgrade its software online.

The new products answer the central government's call for innovation in China's manufacturing industry, which remains synonymous with cheap, low-end products. During the parliamentary session in March, Premier Li Keqiang unveiled an action plan to integrate Internet technology with modern manufacturing.

Compared with other exporters, leading home appliance brands are more optimistic about this year's foreign orders. In January and February, Haier recorded export growth of 29 percent 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 percent and 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 to achieve 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 users of its smart air conditioners on a cloud platform to identify their preferences. Data on user habits and settings can be automatically transmitted to the cloud, where it is stored and processed, and used to develop the company's market strategy.

Like its participants, the 58-year-old trade show has turned to online strategies to expand its clout.

"Considering the sluggish global trade, we invested heavily this year to advertise on global social networking sites and search engines," said Liu Jianjun, spokesman for the Canton Fair.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Yuan Can,Bianji)

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