Such is the case with the refrigerator, but this year's "improvement" is not so much future as past: The freezer is back on the bottom.
It is a Generation X thing. While the aging baby boomer is finding it tougher to bend over to get something that may be way in the back, Gen-Xers want the bottom freezer because "it reminds them of their grandmother's refrigerator," said Dory Anderson, who represents Maytag appliances.
The bottom freezer is not the only change, though. The technocrats would not let a year go by without messing with the internal workings.
How about "temperature management"?
For example, the Amana Messenger side-by-side, which retails for $1,699 to $1,799 depending on model, size and color, has a "Temp-Assure Control System." There are two temperature sensors, one in the freezer and one in the fresh-food section, so there is no chance of ice cream going soft or lettuce turning into real icebergs.
Whirlpool's side-by-side uses foam in the doors and double-tub construction to create its "Accu-Chill" system, which accomplishes the same thing as the Temp-Assure. (The 25.5-cubic-foot Conquest retails for $2,299 in stainless steel.)
GE's Arctica side-by-side has the ClimateKeeper system, which uses electronic sensors and a multiflow air system and has digital controls to help keep temperatures precise.
"CustomCool express settings" let you chill wines in minutes and thaw meats in hours. A TurboCool setting quickly cools the refrigerator after frequent door openings, or when hot items are placed inside.
Who, you may ask, comes up the names for these things?
"The product and specific feature names that we use are created internally, with a significant amount of research," said Leslie Redford of GE Appliances. "We do thorough trademark studies to prevent the use of a name that is already on the market, and to ensure it's not in use elsewhere."
Grant Deady, who represents Whirlpool and KitchenAid, said: "A lot of the time, Whirlpool engineers will come up with these names on their own, but they do have an outside agency that helps if it's a feature they really want to make some noise about."
And what about the features?
"Our features are driven by consumer research," said Jill Spiekerman of Maytag Appliances, which also produces the Amana and Jenn-Air brands.
"We do a tremendous amount of research in consumers' homes," she said. "We shop with them. We watch them put away their groceries. We listen to their concerns."
For example, Spiekerman said, Maytag research found that 76 percent of consumers questioned were unhappy with the storage capacity of their refrigerators. So the company came up with the Wide-By-Side, which is configured to make storing deli trays, leftover pizzas, and sheet cakes easier.
Manufacturers finally recognized that different foods cannot be stored at the same temperatures, so they have come up with devices that compartmentalize cooling.
Most of these new models have EnergyStar ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning they exceed federal standards for energy savings.
Following is a list of some new refrigerators and their bells and whistles.
But do not run to the local appliance store just yet. Some of these new fridges will not be available till later this year.
Maytag Appliances. The Wide-By-Side has ClimateZone technology that features drawers with individual temperature controls and LED readouts for storing perishable foods such as meat and produce.
An Elevator shelf rolls up and down to accommodate tall items. "Easy-glide" shelves roll out so that items can be retrieved, and Spill-Catcher shelves with sealed edges contain spills for easy cleanup.
Gallon jugs and two-liter bottles fit easily into interior doors, and there are twin freezer baskets for easy pullout. (Price: $899 to $1,599. Available now.)
Maytag's Easy-Access bottom-freezer refrigerator, which is available in 19- and 22-cubic-foot models, has the Spill-Catcher and Elevator shelves and the Dual Cool temperature-control system featuring two thermostats. (Price: $1,399 to $1,899. Available now.)
GE Appliances. The Profile Arctica bottom-freezer refrigerator, which comes in 20- and 22-cubic-foot configurations, has a multilevel freezer storage system with three full-extension baskets that slide out independently of one another for easy loading and unloading.
A new "ice system" design combines the icemaker and ice bin. The bin slides out easily, and the cubes do not fall to the freezer floor.
There are electronic sensors and an air system designed for consistent coolness, with digital controls and temperature readouts that allow for easy adjustments.
FrostGuard reduces freezer burn by defrosting items only when necessary.
This fridge, too, has adjustable gallon-door bins and crispers, and slide-out glass shelves. (Price: $1,199 to $1,699. Available in June).
Amana. The Messenger, at 26 cubic feet, allows you to leave voice messages for other family members by touching a button. It has a water dispenser that fills sports bottles and pitchers; shelves that adjust up, down and out; and compartments designed to keep beverages cooler than in the rest of the refrigerator. (Price: $1,699 to $1,799. Available now.)
The Easy Reach bottom freezer, at 25 cubic feet, has a temperature-controlled ChefPantry drawer with a self-opening lid, so your hands are free to hold a party tray. A freezer pullout drawer and an internal filtered-water dispenser is available on one model. (Price: $1,349 to $1,999. Available now.)
Jenn-Air. The Luxury series features built-in side-by-sides with "precision temperature management" systems that keep the internal temperature to within one degree of the target.
An "adaptive and preemptive" defrost system learns how the owner uses the refrigerator and then defrosts when use is lowest. (Price: starts at $5,500. Available now.)
Sub-Zero. One of the 700 over-and-under series, the 700 TC has the refrigerator in the top cabinet, two freezer drawers below. Available with or without icemaker. It has adjustable shelves and drawers and uses $46 worth of electricity a year. (Check dealers for prices and availability; to find a local dealer, see www.subzero.com.)
LG Electronics. The bottom-mount freezer refrigerator comes in 19.7 and 22.4 cubic feet. It has a designer-door shelving system that allows the shelves to move vertically and horizontally, and one model has a tilting freezer drawer for easy access. (Price: $699 to $1,849, depending on features. Available in April.)
Top-mount freezer models have the IceBeam door-cooling system, which maintains the temperature throughout the entire fridge, including the door, no matter how often the door is opened. Available in 18, 19, 20, and 22 cubic feet. (Price: $549 to $899. Available now.)
The Internet Refrigerator has its own LAN port, allowing the user to check e-mail and watch TV, with the press of a finger. (Price: $7,999. Available now.)
Whirlpool. The Conquest contoured-door side-by-side accommodates bigger glasses and other containers and has more usable freezer space. The In-Door-Ice ice-dispensing system moves the bucket to the door. "Triple Tall Baskets" accept more frozen foods, while "Dual Action Flip-Up Shelves" accommodate hard-to-fit items. (Price: $2,199 in stainless steel. Available now.)
Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.