I used to think making predictions about consumer technology in the run-up to CES was a fool’s errand. After all, all it takes is one or two surprise announcements from a big player or ambitious startup to throw all of your assumptions for the coming year into question.
But my thinking about this has changed. After the past couple CES’s, I’ve come to the conclusion that anything that comes out of the big consumer tech show almost invariably underscores trends we’ve already been observing rather than surprise us with entirely new ones.
So here, a week before the big show, are my smart kitchen predictions for 2019.
Big appliance Makers Get Into the Smart Oven Game
One of the big plans in my home for 2019 is a kitchen remodel. Not surprisingly, I can’t wait to replace our old Amana oven from the 90s with a smart oven. The only problem? My wife wants a built-in oven and pretty much all the latest cutting-edge consumer ovens like the June and Brava are countertop appliances*.
The good news is that will soon change. Big appliance brands have all been investing in R&D to create new technology to power their next generation of appliances, and 2019 will be the year we’ll finally see built-in cooking appliances integrate smart features beyond just Wi-Fi. And it’s not just ovens. GE’s integration of the Hestan Cue technology is a sign surface cooking will get better and smarter too in 2019.
Now if I can only get my wife to hold off on the remodel for a few more months.
Microwaves Get Smart
In the world of kitchen tech, no appliance gets picked on more than the microwave. That’s because, for all its ubiquity, microwaves use tech developed during World War II to create results that are often less than perfect.
But the microwave as we know it is transforming, and it goes way beyond Amazon getting into the game. Startups like Markov are using AI to essentially create intelligent microwaves that can better steer their energy to heat with better precision, and big appliance brands like BSH are investigating microwaves with internal cameras to monitor cooking and adjust heating in realtime during a cooking session. Meanwhile, food companies like Conagra are also researching ways to create tailored heating algorithms for different frozen food product SKUs. Finally, I expect 2019 will be the year other big brands will join Miele in building home appliances with next-generation RF cooking technology that could essentially do away with traditional microwaves altogether.
Next-Gen Interfaces Are More Than Just Voice
At some point over the past year, voice assistants crossed the chasm from being “the future” to the everyday and commonplace. And while the mainstreaming of voice assistants from Amazon and Google has meant hundreds of millions of devices installed in the field, I still think the future of consumer interfaces isn’t all spoken word.
So if every single interaction in the kitchen won’t start with a conversation with Alexa or Google, what will that mean? As I’ve written before, projected touch screen interfaces are potential game-changers, and finally last year we saw a big appliance maker in BSH that seemed serious about bringing their projection interface (called PAI) to market.
Finally, while we’ve seen some plateauing of interest in chatbots as a control layer, I still think we’ll continue to see social and messenger integrations create interesting conversational interfaces in coming years, especially as Gen Z comes into their own as a consumer force.
The Kitchen Computer Isn’t Coming. It’s Already Here
A few years ago, word got out about a secret Amazon project called Kabinet in which the Seattle e-commerce giant was supposedly building a ‘kitchen computer’. While the company never released a product called they referred to as an “kitchen computer”, my assumption has always been that the Echo Show was the result of this secret effort and could have easily have been called just that.
Now just a couple years later, the voice-enabled smart display has become one of tech’s biggest battlegrounds as Amazon, Google and even Facebook jockey for a space on our kitchen counters. Because these devices are trojan horses for commerce and services sold into the home, these companies see the kitchen – the home’s central hub for most families – as the most desirable landing spot for these devices. In 2019, I expect these companies to continue investing into food and cooking-centric applications and to beef up their partner rosters (like Google’s hookup with Innit) in order to build these capabilities out further.
The Emergence of the Sentient Kitchen
Last month, I uncovered a Whirlpool patent for a computer vision system that would use machine learning to help it better understand behaviors within the kitchen and react to them. It was a fairly expansive and ambitious patent, one which told me Whirlpool sees AI as one of the key battlegrounds for the future of their space.
And the appliance giant isn’t alone. Amazon has been working on anticipatory food delivery while startups like Icebox are building AI-powered systems that make sure you never run out of eggs. Add in some interesting research in areas like synthetic sensors and we’re seeing the foundations for the sentient kitchen being built before our eyes, where the kitchen and underlying systems become able to anticipate and react to the consumer’s needs.
Food-Driven Revenue Models Come Further Into Focus
While the appliance business has historically focused on selling metal boxes, 2019 will be the year many appliance brands adapt their business models to include recurring revenue through food sales (subscription and otherwise). Tovala and Nomiku have been working on home food delivery for a couple years, and over the past six months they were joined by the likes of Brava, June and ChefSteps. 2019 will also see big appliance brands move in this direction as well, and an early sign of this is LG’s Home Brew appliance, a home beer brew system with an accompanying subscription ingredient business.
2019 will see also see grocery and delivery platform players making focused efforts to partner with appliance brands. In broadband parlance, cooking appliances are essentially the “last mile” when it comes to food decisions, meaning those who control the cooking and food storage control, in many ways, consumer food spending. Amazon knew this years ago (hence the “kitchen computer”) and others are just now waking up to the strategic importance of the connected kitchen.
There are my predictions for the smart kitchen in 2019, now let’s see what happens at CES next week to reinforce those thoughts (or blow them up).
If you’ll be at CES showing off some cool kitchen or foodtech, direct message via Twitter. We’ll have the entire Spoon team there reporting from the show.
*The lone exception was the June built-in oven, but the startup essentially end-of-lifed that appliance when they launched the gen 2 June.