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Pricey smart appliances could turn ‘dumb’ after just a couple of years

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Written by:
08/06/2020
Smart appliances which cost hundreds of pounds more than their standard equivalents could be rendered obsolete after just two years, an investigation has revealed.

On average, shoppers pay £855 more for a smart fridge-freezer than a standard one, £259 more for a smart dishwasher and £190 more for a smart tumble dryer.

While standard dishwashers and washing machines typically last a decade, and fridge-freezers and tumble dryers last around 11 years before needing to be replaced due to faults or poor performance, consumers also expect smart appliances to last the same amount of time.

However, an investigation by consumer champion Which? revealed that manufacturers are failing to give clarity about the length of time their products would be supported without important security updates.

As an example, smart appliances can be controlled remotely by phone, can help consumers save money by improving efficiency or send alerts to engineers when a fault is detected.

Without essential updates, they pose a security risk, could lose smart functionality and ultimately end up in landfill ahead of their time.

Manufacturer response

When Which? asked major manufacturers about how long their products would receive vital software updates, it found most were not being transparent, and one suggested it could even stop providing security support after only a couple of years.

The majority of manufacturers claimed they would offer updates for what they termed “the life of the product” – but refused to reveal how long they would expect that to be.

Samsung said “a minimum of two years”. Hoover/Candy claimed an appliance’s lifetime depends on factors like regularity of use and whether the appliance is loaded or maintained correctly.

BSH (which makes Bosch, Neff and Siemens appliances) said it is difficult to provide a specific length of time for updates across its smart products but added it would provide updates for the lifetime of the product. Whirlpool stated it does not have a timeframe for updates.

LG said that if issues are detected, updates can be rolled out to consumers, but it did not confirm any timeframes.  Beko said “a maximum of 10 years”.

Only Miele was definitive. It said it would support smart appliances with 10 years of security updates.

Transparency on updates and support essential

Which? wants manufacturers to be transparent about how long customers will receive updates and support for their appliances.

It added that losing smart features could mean consumers have rights under the Consumer Rights Act which requires products to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

Meanwhile, if a new EU directive is adopted in the UK, consumers will have more protections with digital elements of appliances, including an obligation to guarantee the smart functioning of a product (through updates, for example).

The UK government has also set out plans for legislation requiring smart appliances to meet certain security standards. These proposals would require manufacturers to state the minimum length of time the device will receive security updates.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “Being able to check the contents of your fridge from your smartphone or having your dishwasher order itself more salt when it starts running low may seem appealing, but with some appliances costing up to an extra £900, these smart features don’t come cheap.

“Until manufacturers are clear and upfront about how long they will support these products for, consumers could be better off avoiding smart appliances that might turn ‘dumb’ after only a few years and stick to more reliable and significantly cheaper non-smart alternatives.”

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