Saturday, 9 January 2016
rise of the refrigerators
I've been looking at some of the new technology from CES this week.
Among the items that seems to have received disproportionately high coverage are the new generation refrigerators, which are now Internet of Things enabled.
The refrigerator is becoming the newest robot to need to be obeyed.
I've been an early adopter of IoT technology around the home and we have various devices like Nest, Hue, music and automated fireplace controls that work from WiFi/Zigbee signalling. Hubs R Us etc.
A key facet for me is that IoT should be quiet technology. By that I mean it does its thing without needing to be obviously present. The technology should be hidden away, yet these newest devices seem to be the opposite.
Their design point reminds me of building surfaces in Shanghai or Tokyo - or on a modest scale Leicester Square.
Brightly lit animated and flashy, like a reverse version of form over function. Limited function dictating the entire form.
I can almost imagine the meetings at Samsung, LG or Philips.
"See if you can figure out how to put a flat panel television screen onto this white surface."
And lo, they have done it. There's a fridge that now has a glass panel in the front that is dark - like those glass fronts on office meeting rooms or showers in Novotels, you know the ones that can go misty at the tap of a button. In this case the glass is dark but goes clear when you tap it.
Yes, you can see inside the fridge without opening the door! And then there's a special foot sensor which, when a foot is put in the right place on the floor will automatically open the fridge door.
The demonstrator here looks thoughtful...
"Manual doors are so 20th Century"/"Does it come in black?"/"That'll attract fingerprints"/"What about the other three doors?"/"It's not completely dark, I can see inside before I've tapped it"/"Now I'll always need Fortnum's fridge goods so nosy neighbours can only see the good stuff"/"My next kitchen will be styled on an aircraft maintenance facility"...and so on.
So are these kitchen hubs totally pointless options? Who am I to say. I suppose if I was staying away from home and had one of these in a temporary apartment then it would make a conversation piece?
But practically - will the food lose that much freshness when the fridge door is opened? And what happens to that handy part of the door where the milk gets stored? As for the foot control - they can sell the feature that it doesn't respond to cats, dogs or small children, I suppose. An example of a solution looking for a problem.
Then there's the 'flat panel TV glued to the door' type fridges. Proper computer hubs, turning one of the simplest and most reliable kitchen appliances into one of the one most likely to go wrong and need rebooting. Internet browser enabled, of course. And capable of monetisation. Add an ordering option to the front so that when the bottled capers or cranberries are getting low they can automatically be re-ordered. Guess what? They've also added a 'fridge housekeeping function' so that you can drag and drop the fridge inventory as well as its 'use by' dates. So many things to go wrong with this one, and an ugly great black mirror to live with in the kitchen too. I suppose if it does crash then it could re-order its entire content automatically.
Much more fun would be to create the (c) rashbre central fridge cam which records fridge accesses and alerts when the last yoghurt/can of beer has been taken. Maybe add an optional "Midnight munchies suppression" feature.
I understand that the marketeers want to take punt on some of this stuff, but I'm not sure how many people will want a row of LCD screens distracting their kitchens.
"Open the fridge bay door, Hal"