Friday, 8 January 2016

CES: the return of the connected fridge

For completeness, I'm going to write a series of short posts on other themes I saw at CES this year. First up, the connected kitchen.

There's been gigantic hype around the connected home for years now, so it's little surprise that lots of tech turned up at CES. I do think that some breakthroughs are being made, mind you. On the stands of LG, Bosch, Whirlpool and Samsung I saw ranges of practical high-end kitchen appliances that offered interesting marginal gains versus their un-connected predecessors. Here's Bosch's summary of the use cases for the category:

For example, Bosch's washing machine and dryer combination enables you to programme the machine far more precisely to the load being washed through a slick, user-centric iPad application. I wouldn't change my washer to get this, but I could see how it would be a selling point if I were buying a new one. Interestingly Bosch, LG and Whirlpool all avoided the temptation to put touchscreens into the devices, keeping them clean and functional, while moving the clever controls to the smart device. Right now these are all expensive devices that are only accessible to wealthy consumers, but I imagine that the technology will trickle down as the BOM impact of adding wifi to an appliance is almost comically small.

Samsung, of course, have never been ones for sensible user design, preferring as ever to slap screens onto everything. Witness their latest smart fridge, which enables you to shop from two providers in the US really slowly, while also seeing what the weather is. Brilliant. It'll definitely be really useful and not at all obsolete and stupid-looking within 3 years. In my opinion, of course.

Oh, and to add to the entertainment, most of these devices had signs on them saying 'no close ups'. As if their competitors couldn't figure out how to put a big tablet into a fridge door?! Bizarre.

Despite my interest in the sudden practicality of some of these connected domestic appliances, I was still left a little cold by the technology on display. None of it represents any sort of disruption to the kitchen or food preparation space. I was hoping to see practical hydroponics or food recycling units or new appliances designed for the smaller and more hermetically-sealed urban homes across the world. But there was none of that. Iteration, not innovation seems like the order of the day.

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