One of the biggest challenges in bringing new kitchen technology to market is ensuring that appliances like smart ovens last a really long time.
How long? Up to 20 years, according to Paul Bristow, Sr. Product Manager at GE Appliances, who along with other appliance execs spoke recently at the Smart Kitchen Summit on a panel entitled ‘The Self Driving Oven’.
The reason for such longevity is simple: Because that’s the expected lifespan of an appliance like a wall oven in a traditional home. That’s a tall order for appliance makers, particularly as they start to transition product development cycles to more closely resemble those dictated by the technology industry, where it’s not unheard of for a product like a smartphone to become obsolete in just a couple of years.
But according to Steve Brown, head of Whirlpool’s Jenn-Air business unit, adding new technology features such as Wi-Fi may allow appliance makers to future-proof their products through remote software upgrades.
“The exciting thing about having the oven connected is it will stay more relevant over time,” said Brown. “When we launched our connected oven last December, it didn’t have any integration with Nest and now it does. We will be adding voice recognition very shortly.”
But ensuring longevity goes beyond simply adding connectivity like Wi-Fi. According to June CTO Nikhil Bhogal, it also means making sure the hardware can grow over time as new features come to market, which means taking a more forward-looking approach than many of today’s consumer electronics.
“If you look at today’s consumer electronics, they’re built to today’s OS (operating system) stack,” said Bhogal. “Within 2 years when the OS starts adding additional functionality, the OS starts adding new functionality, it slows down and it becomes obsolete in 3 years.”
According to Bhogal, this often means over-building the hardware capability to ensure that it can take on new features over time.
“Part of the approach should be building with headroom to grow,” said Bhogal, who went on to detail how June has utilized powerful components such as the Nvidia K1, a processor that powers some of today’s high-end mobile gaming devices, when building the June Oven.
David Kender, the VP of Editorial for USA Today’s Reviewed.com, asked the panel if appliance makers are starting to shift their product planning approach to factor in newer, more cutting edge technologies.
The answer is yes, according to Jenn-Air’s Brown. “There’s been a change in the sense of urgency in the last 15 months.”
When Kender asked why things have shifted in the last 15 months, Brown pointed to the reduction in cost of components and the realization among appliance makers that the kitchen has fell behind other parts of the home.
“The kitchen is one of the least connected parts of the home today, oddly enough, because its one of the most important parts,” said Brown. “When people ask ‘why would you connect them’, I would flip around and ask them ‘do you really think these expensive electronics will be the only things in our whole house that are not connected?'”