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Smart Home

Are over-the-air updates magic? Here’s the real deal

It’s how your smart appliances get smarter.

A smart oven with a pizza pie inside. Credit: Whirpool

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Smart home appliances have been around for a few years now. While not all of the features they bring to the table are particularly useful—people don’t seem to be clamoring for the ability to start their dishwasher from their Tesla—they’re generally pretty useful, from enhanced accessibility features to better diagnostics and troubleshooting.

One of the benefits of having a smart appliance, and one that’s not talked about particularly frequently, is the ability to download over-the-air (OTA) updates.

What are over-the-air updates?

Screenshot of a smartphone getting an app update.
Credit: Whirpool / Reviewed

Over-the-air (OTA) updates allow your smart appliance to download new data over the course of its lifetime.

OTA updates are improvements to the software or firmware of your appliance that can be downloaded to any appliance with a Wi-Fi connection.

Bree Lemmen, kitchen brand manager at Whirlpool, describes how it works for Whirlpool’s smart appliances: “Once your appliance is connected, it automatically downloads updates and adds new cycles as they’re released. So you don’t have to physically install anything with a computer or external device.”

If the smart platform does keep things updated automatically, the company will even make sure to do it at a convenient time. Lemmen explains, “If an update is available (and the appliance is not being used), it will automatically download and install it without requiring any intervention. You can also manually check if there are updates available.”

Why are OTA updates useful?

A person holdingup a tablet with a smart home app on display.
Credit: Getty Images / baloon111

Smart appliances capable of receiving OTA updates will remain relevant longer than appliances that do not have wireless connectivity.

OTA updates are important because they can increase the overall longevity of your appliance. As manufacturers keep finding new innovations or efficiencies as they develop new models, they’re sometimes able to find improvements that can retroactively apply to older products as well.

For example, let’s say Frigidaire invents a new technique for handling the defrost cycles in its refrigerators that allows them to maintain steadier temperatures. With OTA updates, Frigidaire could potentially push this feature out to every smart refrigerator that uses its smart platform, allowing your fridge to benefit from that company’s ongoing innovations.

As another example, let’s say LG launches a new smart dishwasher. LG’s smart platform ThinQ specializes in collecting and leveraging diagnostic data to help quickly identify and eliminate problems. As owners of the new dishwasher use it and LG accrues diagnostic data, the company could potentially spot issues that didn’t crop up during in-house testing, then issue a fix to the affected machines.

The possibilities truly begin to spiral once you get into the cooking space. “OTA updates allow current Whirlpool Smart Appliances to essentially get smarter over time,” Lemmen says, “so consumers can embrace new cooking methods and changing preferences.”

This is especially true for Whirlpool’s smart appliances this year, as it’s recently kicked off its Smarter Over Time campaign, which has brought regular updates to the platform to reflect new cooking methods, recipes, and techniques on Whirlpool smart ranges and ovens.

Appliances that grow as you do

A person with a smart home app on their smartphone.
Credit: Getty Images / RossHelen

If you’re looking at investing in a new appliance, the benefit of OTA updates might outweigh the cost of the feature.

Even if you’re not particularly sold on all the functionality offered by various smart platforms, the ability to download OTA updates puts smart appliances in a truly different category than their less-smart peers.

The ability to upgrade themselves over time keeps smart appliances more relevant for longer. Not only do OTA updates allow missed issues to be addressed before they create problems, but they actually allow your appliance to improve in functionality over time, which was not possible before.

If you’re shopping for a new appliance, you can view smart features as a supplemental warranty: It helps guarantee that your investment in that particular appliance will appreciate over time more so than a similar product that lacks connectivity.

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