Cooking up the connected kitchen

By , ITworld |  IT Management

My conclusion is that the vendors currently are mostly thinking-out-loud. Manufacturers – I spoke with Whirlpool, Dacor, Haier, and Bosch, though those aren't the only vendors involved – are coming out with a few products that are useful (and generally available only on high-end appliances). The kitchen automation features largely are aimed, by my observation, at answering, "What could we do? What would people pay for?" The fact that none of us are sure of the answer makes this whole topic fascinating.

A recipe for success
What do people want their kitchen equipment to do? Unlike the remote-control automation of security tools, cooking is not binary. It might be nice to turn on the oven before you leave work, so that it's pre-heated by the time you get home, but nothing is going to put the food in the oven for you. Nor do you necessarily want it to do so; many of us like chopping vegetables and stirring and so on.

From the CES conversations and my own cooking-inspired experiences, I think these are among the main desires for kitchen connectivity.

Reduce complexity. As manufacturers add more functionality to these embedded systems, it gets harder for us to find and use the features. A user interface expert would call this "to surface the desired features," but from my view, my existing fancy-schmancy microwave requires me to press at least six buttons before I can bake a potato.

Integrate with other devices. Connectivity does imply integration with the rest of the home network, with the manufacturer (such as when a filter needs to be replaced), and – duh – with the user and her devices.

Be cognizant of tech standards. Whatever budget you're on, you don't want to replace a major kitchen appliance – or even a minor one. If I buy a $2,000 refrigerator, I don't want to have to replace it in five years because its computing features no longer connect to anything useful. If a manufacturer standardizes its interface on, say, Windows 8, and that technology tanks, it can make sales go sour.

Use technology to let us do something new. This is, of course, the money question. We upgrade only when we can accomplish something more efficiently, or even better when there's a heretofore impossible benefit.

Plus, many kitchen appliances are expensive, and that's not the place for a solution in search of a problem, a topic that a recent Slate article explored in Why are smart appliances so stupid?

Cooking up answers
The manufacturers want to sell us technology, and we want to buy cool capabilities that actually improve the quality of our lives. What I found surprising, in my own hands-on evaluations, is how often I had a dual-stage response: "That's the dumbest thing I ever saw. (beat) Wait, I want that!"

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