Haier invades the West with a new range of connected products

For many, Haier is the most important electronics manufacturer that you’ve never heard of–which is moderately insane when you realize how massive the company really is. The Chinese based manufacturer doesn’t yet have a huge U.S. presence—with the exception of a marketing partnership with the NBA—and yet in 2010 it sold over $23 billion worth of merchandise worldwide. And still the name isn’t widely known outside of certain tech-friendly circles. That is changing.

Haier is, and remains a company dedicated to its Chinese and Asian markets first. New products debut there routinely that will never see the American market, but more and more Haier products are heading to American shores. This year will see the introduction of numerous Haier products in the States—from high-tech speakers, to refrigerators, to TVs with built-in wi-fi. Oh, and there’s the TVs controlled by brain waves, but those might not hit our shores for a while yet.

This year at CES, Haier outlined its plans for the U.S. market, which include a handful of new products as well as an American introduction of products that have been on the market in China for at least a few months, and in some cases as much as a year. Mixed in, there will also be a few U.S. debuts, plus the manufacturer showed off several prototype products which may never see the retail light of day, but could be the first steps towards future technologies.

Later this year, Haier will be introducing a series of sound bars that are thin, and connect wirelessly. A 20” sound bar is currently on the market, but a 30” and 40” sound bars are due out later this year. Along with the standard sound bar design, the top of the line will be a 40” sound bar with an iPod docking station, a built-in subwoofer, and 5.1 3D sound.

Haier is also pushing a new series of televisions called the NetConnect sets, which will incorporate a handful of apps including Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Yahoo. More apps are on the way as well, including Facebook integration, Film Fresh, and YouTube. These wi-fi enabled LED TVs will range in size, but all feature a slim design with a minimalist bezel. Along with the NetConnect series is the Evoke brand, Haier’s top of the line sets that feature passive 3D.

But while Haier is pushing to gain recognition in the U.S. television market, one area where it already dominates is in home appliances—Haier is the number one refrigerator and laundry machine maker in the world. With so many departments creating products, Haier is taking the next logical step–just as Samsung, Sony, and others are doing—and connecting all the devices that are made by the company.

The Chinese side of Haier is already deep into production on connected products, but the first American example of this series, which Haier is calling “Smart Home,” will come in the form of a wine cooler. The wine cooler will be fully digital and send you messages based on the preferences you request. If there is a power outage, it will notify you. If you want to lower the temp, it will tell you when that temp is met. But more interestingly is the ability to scan inventory that you input. Using a specific Haier app, when you scan the bar code of a bottle of wine you can populate that information to your wine cooler, and a digital inventory will let you know what you have as well as details about that wine that are available.

The wine cooler is the first smart Home product, but soon other home appliances and devices will be incorporated. A TV will also be released in America down the road that when networked into your other appliances, it will display messages for you regarding your appliances. When your laundry is done, you will receive a message on screen, or if the fridge is open, it will let you know. Eventually the connection will include smartphones, so if you are out and about, you can send a message to someone watching TV and let them know you will be late. Alternatively, you could use the TV to look up restaurant listings, then have that info sent to your phone.

All in all, Haier has several intriguing products that should appeal to the American market and help to expand its reputation. But beyond the upcoming products due out this year and next, Haier’s prototype products offer a glimpse into the future of all electronics.

On display this year at CES were several new technologies, including a transparent TV (which is still years from practical production) that will likely be geared towards commercial applications. Imagine walking past a store window that is actually a display that will change the image and still allow you to look into the store.

A more realized product that could soon hit the market was a large computer monitor that featured a touchscreen interface that could interact with a standard operating system. The technology has been around for a while now, but it has never really been produced for use on a personal computer (although several manufacturers are showing off the same tech at CES). This could debut in China later this year, and in America sometime next year.

Haier is also working on a gesture-based control that is similar to the Kinect, but can work with an operating system and replace a mouse for broader controls. As with the touchscreen monitor, the technology exists, but it still needs work before it can be released, plus Haier hopes to integrate that technology into a monitor and/or TV bezel.

But the most intriguing technology has to be the brain wave operated controller. The device fits over your head and places a monitor on your forehead. The technology was adapted from medical scanners that measure brainwaves, and the controller can recognize and use simple commands. So far Haier has focused on using the technology for games, but it has considered how it could be used as a remote control for a television. The technology is still in the early stages of development and is likely years away from practical use (if ever), but it is easily one of the most eye-opening technologies at CES this year.

For many, Haier is a company with a low name recognition if they know it at all. Give it time though. That will change, and quickly.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: