For those old enough to remember, there is an episode from season two of The Simpsons where Homer designs a car for the average American. The result, as you can imagine was a hodge-podge monstrosity that featured bubble domes, three horns, shag carpeting and cost $82,000.
I started thinking about that Homermobile a lot when I read about the new fridge from Sharp that has a built-in vacuum sealer for sous-vide cooking. Well, technically, this could be used to keep food fresher longer, but still, I hadn’t ever thought about combining the vacuum sealer and the fridge. Do I want that?
Companies are already pushing the notion of modern fridges doing much more than keeping our food cold. Equipped with smart screens, they are being turned into literal Family Hubs, have voice assistant capabilities built-in, talk with other appliances, have internal cameras to help us keep inventory, and even guide us through cooking.
We also learned last week that Mitte was in talks with appliance manufacturers to have its mineral water dispensing tech built into fridges, and Spoon founder, Mike Wolf, openly opined that he wants to have a SodaStream built into his fridge. Which honestly, doesn’t seem that far-fetched given the rise in seltzer consumption. How much bigger (or smaller on the inside) does a fridge need to get to accommodate still water, ice, mineral water, seltzer water and why not throw regular soda in there as well?
Further afield, both Amazon and Facebook (yes, Facebook) both have patents around smart technology for your fridge. Amazon’s version of the smart fridge would smell your contents for early spoilage detection, while Facebook’s (yes, Facebook) is more about accessing your fridge camera for meal recommendations and, of course, targeted advertising.
The fridge, ironically, seems like it’s heating up as a convergence zone for new kitchen tech. Which is why I think it’s good to think about what you want in your next one. I’m still a couple of years out from needing a new one (knock on wood), but as someone who writes about this stuff for a living, I’m already going through the features that I’ll want.
Mostly, I’m still going to treat my fridge like a fridge. I want it to keep food cold. I don’t need a constant connection so I can check in on the internal temperature, I just need it to be the workhorse of my kitchen, especially for the thousands of dollars that fridges cost.
Having said that, I really like the LG screen that goes transparent when you knock-knock on it. First of all, it’s neat, but it also saves me money by letting me peer into the fridge without letting all the cold air out.
Built-in screens, as a whole though, make me nervous. A screen in the kitchen is actually useful and lots of companies are vying for your eyeballs while you cook. But I don’t want to be locked into a particular ecosystem, I want to use all of my existing apps easily, and I don’t want an update to an operating system or app to suddenly brick my fridge. A better bet seems like just mounting a cheap tablet to the front of the fridge, which has the added benefit of being more portable, should I need to look at a recipe or watch the news while I cook.
Having my appliances talk to one another is kind of cool, but that requires its own lock-in (brands only talk with same brands), and I’d rather be able to pick the best oven, cooktop, induction burner, fridge or dishwasher independent of one another. Rather than focusing on a proprietary communication channel between their own appliances, I’d rather see appliance manufacturers work on integrating a wide variety of voice assistants (or, well, you know, the two main ones: Alexa and Google). That way users can just as easily control appliances using their voice, and they have more control over when each appliance goes on and to what temperature.
On the hardware side, I do think Mike is on to something with the seltzer tap built in. I like the idea of reducing waste (there are so many cans in my recycle bin), but I’d want to make sure that I could adjust the carbonation to make it as crisp as I like. Also, I’d like a decent enough-sized IoT -enabled CO2 cannister that automatically ordered a replacement and didn’t have to be replaced that often. I don’t think I’d go for any other type of drink like mineral water on tap from the fridge, and I wouldn’t want sticky flavor syrups gumming up the works in there either.
And as insane as it sounds, I am also intrigued by the Amazon smell-o-fridge. Fighting food waste is a big deal, and if my fridge is smart enough to tell me something is safe to eat, I’m all in. If built-in cameras and complex image recognition systems help with that as well, more power to ’em.
But I’m never letting Facebook into my fridge, though.
The bigger point is that we are entering an age where your fridge could get overloaded with features that could quickly become frivolous. You should spend your money smartly, and that may not mean buying a smart fridge. If you’re Homer Simpson, for instance, it’s probably smarter to skip the connected fridge and focus one that holds 64 slices of American cheese.