Behind IKEA's All-in-One TV System, Uppleva

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When everything in your home reflects a certain aesthetic, why shouldn't your electronic gadgetry?

Enter Uppleva, IKEA's answer to the question that, according to the Swedish retailer's research, is foremost in customers' minds as they set about decorating their home: Why doesn't everything match?

Uppleva is a television and sound unit that -- in a partial throwback to television sets of the '50s -- is built right into furniture, so everything fits together perfectly. Introduced last week, the set includes a display, (built by Chinese company TCL) a Blu-Ray player and sound system that fits inside customizable cabinetry and can be controlled with a single remote.

The idea, according to the introduction video created by Forsman & Bodenfors that accompanied the product, is to get rid of the clutter of wires and cables that is part and parcel of any well-connected home. According to Magnus Bondesson, business area manager for living rooms, IKEA, the retailer has anthropological teams that visit homes all over the world to understand how people furnish and live with electronics.

For Uppleva, IKEA surveyed homes in Italy, Sweden, Poland, France and Germany, and found that the majority of customers already have a specific piece of furniture for the television and have the problem of visible cables and cords.

"We learned that one of the main frustrations in furnishing a living room is how to find solutions for the electronics," said Mr. Bondesson. Electronics don't match the furniture in size, color, or design and there is a "mess of cables," and "too many remote controls."

The team built on BESTA, IKEA's existing line of media storage solutions. "Designing furniture and electronics that are made for each other right from the beginning gave us new opportunities to create a unique offering," said Mr. Bondesson.

Francis Cayouette, a Canadian product designer and founder of Unit 10 Design, who has been working with IKEA on a freelance basis since 2001, found that unique offering. He said that he found that there was a bit potential with the idea of combining home electronics and furniture. "It just makes sense," he said.

Uppleva, then, is also very IKEA, simple, stylish and minimalist, and centers on what the retailer does better than anyone else: furniture.

Furniture-driven Idea
The idea, said Mr. Cayouette, was to remove the technical look of the television and instead make it part of the furniture. The style, then, is given by the cabinetry, not by the gadgets, which then fit into the aesthetic. "Design the electronics from a home furnishing perspective, not from the electronic world," he said.

Mr. Cayouette also wanted to make sure the electronics were able to be integrated into other lines of furniture that IKEA produces, so it fits within existing customers' homes.

The user interface -- the remote -- also has a distinct IKEA feel. Those familiar with the retailer's often frustrating packaging and instruction manuals know that there is a heavy reliance on pictograms. The remote control too uses pictograms and has minimal buttons.

Uppleva includes HIMNA, a TV bench designed by Anna Wallin Irinarchos and Lisa Widen, of WIS Design in Stockholm. The bench, the TCL television, the cabinetry, brackets, panels and all the other electronics together make up the system.

Mr. Bondesson said he couldn't comment on IKEA's plans going forward. However, when asked if there are plans to create other in-home integrations of the same sort (perhaps a refrigerator built into a kitchen counter system?) he said "IKEA always looks for opportunities to improve the life at home for many people."

Both multiplatform products and connected home experiences were big trends at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Smart homes, in which gadgets talk to each other as well as to the customer, and are controlled by one device, whether a smartphone or a remote control, is shaping up to be a major trend for the coming year, so why not have a furniture company join the fray?

Uppleva will be sold in Italy, France, Germany, Poland and Sweden this June, with prices starting at about $960. A wider European rollout is planned for the Fall and in other markets in the spring of 2012.

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