MAYTAG LEADS A CHARGE: While maybe not the sexiest, Maytag's AquaLift technology for automated oven cleaning is among the most practical of new features. And it was dreamed up in the USA.
Materializing Feb. 1 at a big-box store near you, this "first in 50 years" improvement combines a newfangled nonstick oven liner with a novel water mist and a surprisingly low 200-degree heat cycle.
When all's said and done (in just a couple of hours), you still have to wipe out the oven. But no caustic chemicals are involved. And none of that burning smell, nor the permanent scarring of the oven door's glass window that occurs with conventional 800-degree self-cleaning.
That's why Maytag is blowing up the cooking window in new models to practically the full size of the door. Gas and electric ranges with AquaLift start at $799; about $1,800 will buy one with the magical Induction Power Center cooktop that heats (rapidly) only where a metal pot is placed.
The new ovens are "designed, engineered and assembled with pride in Tulsa, Okla." The same tech will show up in other Whirlpool Corp. ovens from KitchenAid, Whirlpool and Jenn-Air.
MAKING CONNECTIONS: Initially viewed with suspicion by U.S. retailers, South Korean appliance companies started making inroads by producing refrigerators, microwave ovens and dishwashers to order for better-known (in some cases "premium") brands.
During the learning process, the interlopers laser-focused on what the U.S. market desired - larger-capacity appliances with simple controls and spiffy LCD screens. Now LG and Samsung are eating their former U.S. partners' lunch, leading the industry in large-size laundry and multi-door refrigerator/freezer sales, respectively.
For 2012, both manufacturers are introducing a host of wireless Wi-Fi-"connected" appliances that can be remotely tracked and programmed on a smartphone, saving unnecessary trips to the basement and guaranteeing "just in time" dinner prep.
Operational alerts (like a clogged dryer vent) can be delivered to a mobile phone from the Samsungs. LG appliances put out a more extensive array of diagnostic signals that can be analyzed remotely by a service rep. This could save a house call or improve your odds that the repair guy shows up with the right part.
MAKING A LIST: Food inventory management and automated recipe suggestions (based on what's in your larder) will be available on the LCD color-screen doors of high-end LG and Samsung refrigerators. While users must input the foodstuff manually, bar code readers to automate the process can't be far away.
SPEED DEMONS: More practical is LG's new Blast Chiller feature, which super-cools a canned or bottled beverage to optimum temperature in five minutes and chills two cans or a bottle of wine in eight. First fridge to have it will cost $3,000, though.
Samsung is adding a steam-clean mode to new dishwashers that loosens even caked-on food. The maker is also promising a "40 percent faster" clothes wash in its largest-capacity WF457, which turns detergent to "power foam," infused into fabrics.
LG is even automating the housecleaning process with the camera- and sensor-filled HOM-BOT robotic vacuum cleaner and the Kompressor Follow Me canister vacuum. The latter automatically trails behind you without any tugging of the hose. Just like my cat!
A MODERN TOUCH: Want to add smart apps (like a recipe finder and grocery-list preparation) to your current refrigerator? Belkin has your ticket: Fridge Mount. Secures an iPad 2 tablet computer to even the oldest of icebox doors. $39.99; available almost everywhere.