Some 69% of Which? members in a March 2020 survey* told us they expect a smart appliance to last as long, if not longer, than a non-smart equivalent. But with industry-wide confusion over update policies, and a lack of clear regulation, your security updates could run out well before the end of the product’s lifetime.
Your white goods are, according to Which? research, some of the most long-lasting appliances in your home, with dishwashers and washing machines typically lasting 10 years, and fridge-freezers and tumble dryers 11 before needing to be replaced.
But when you add software into the mix, these products could have a much shorter life – at least in terms of their full functionality. Unsupported products can provide a way in for hackers to steal your data, so it’s important that your protection doesn’t stop before your appliance packs in for good.
We asked all the major smart home appliance manufacturers how long they will provide security updates for their connected products. Only one could definitively tell us, in years, what consumers can expect.
How long will brands support their smart appliances?
We asked Beko, BSH (Bosch, Neff and Siemens), Hoover/Candy, LG, Miele, Samsung and Whirlpool Group (Hotpoint, Indesit and Whirlpool) how long they will provide updates for their smart appliances, and the majority told us: ‘the life of the product’.
That sounds like a pretty good deal. But what does a ‘lifetime’ actually mean?
Very few brands elaborated when we asked. Samsung only confirmed a minimum of two years of updates, while Beko confirmed a maximum of 10 years.
Only one brand was definitive: Miele promises 10 years of security updates for its smart appliances.
Without a clear policy, it’s left up to manufacturers to decide how long the product’s lifetime can be. We’ve seen manufacturers withdraw support for working products before after promising lifetime updates, such as when TomTom withdrew support for older sat navs in January 2018.
Not one brand we spoke to had published their length of update policy for consumers to find at the time of writing.
Why buy a smart appliance?
If you’ve already dipped your toes in the connected home trend, with smartphone-operated light bulbs or perhaps a voice assistant to set alarms or read you a weather report, then you might be tempted by a smart washing machine, tumble dryer, dishwasher or fridge freezer as well.
They’re more expensive, but in exchange promise a range of additional features:
Some of the most common added extras you find on smartphone apps, such as getting alerts on the cycle’s status, are designed to make operating your appliance easier on the move. You can also often start your program remotely, though we only recommend doing this when you are home and awake, for safety reasons.
There can be add-ons to save you money too. Energy reports will show you which programs cost the least to run, and diagnostic tools can help you save on potentially pricey engineer call outs.
Unsurprisingly, these futuristic benefits cost extra. On average, we found that smart washing machines cost £90 more than their non-smart equivalents. This rises to £190 for smart tumble dryers, £259 for smart dishwashers and a whopping £855 for smart fridge freezers.
With these high extra costs, and concerns over the long-term provision of security updates, it’s no wonder that consumers are reluctant to invest in these appliances. 61% of our members* who don’t already own a smart appliance told us they wouldn’t consider buying one.
Security updates are important across a wide range of connected devices – the most common of which are mobile phones. If you’re using an older phone that’s no longer supported, read our guide on mobile phone security to find out more about the risks.
The future of smart appliances
The trend for internet-enabled appliances seems here to stay. For people to have confidence in these connected products, legislation must protect consumer rights and manufacturers need to ensure that appliances they sell won’t become a security risk in just a few years time.
The government is currently setting out plans for new security standards for smart appliances. This legislation would mean manufacturers would have to tell you at the point of sale how long they will provide security updates for. This would help make the industry more transparent, but you could still see your smart white goods left unsupported after just a few years.
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 could turn ‘dumb’ after only a few years and stick to more reliable and significantly cheaper non-smart alternatives.’
Which? will be taking an active role in the future of smart technology in the UK. We will work closely with the industry to ensure greater transparency for consumers, so that you can make an informed decision whenever you buy a connected product.
*Based on a survey of 255 Which? members in March 2020.