The Case for a "Dumb" Kitchen
For reasons that may never be clear, the kitchen was become a breeding ground for some of the worst, most ill-advised elements of the smart home revolution. There’s nothing more potentially gimmicky than adding wireless connectivity or touchscreens to kitchen appliances, cookware and even silverware.
Take the HAPIfork, a utensil that buzzes when you’re eating too quickly and transmits fork-speed data via Bluetooth. Debuted in 2013 at $99, this gadget is still available today for the low, low price of $49. In case you couldn't figure it out, the goal there was to encourage portion control by slowing the velocity of users’ forks. Other companies have floated similarly well-intentioned doodads, such as the SmartPlate, a $119 camera and weight-sensor-laden plate that helps you track your food intake.
There are some good ideas when it comes to high-tech kitchen gear such as the ingenious and hopefully trendsetting June Intelligent Oven as well as the iGrill 2, which sends data to your phone that would be too detailed to realistically display on a digital thermometer. But the status quo in smart kitchen tech is paying a premium for pointless features. The Smarter Coffee machine, for example, was a pre-order-based success story when it debuted in 2015, but some sales partners have since dumped the wifi-connected coffeemaker, and the second generation has been all but ignored by reviewers who learned their lesson from the first model. Paying more money for the ability to start brewing from your phone just isn't enough of a selling point.
And neither, to our minds, are the smart features that have turned even innovative appliance-makers into short-sighted bandwagoners. Samsung swings for the fences with many of its fridge designs, and then falls for the smart home fad by sticking on some of its refrigerators, letting you access digital calendars and stream music. Consider the kind of consumer that might care about those capabilities, and imagine him or her ignoring the nearby phone or tablet that completes those tasks with practiced speed and efficiency, and instead choosing to tap away at what amounts to a massive tablet grafted onto the fridge, a device whose limited apps and options offer a fraction of what non-fridge-based devices can do.
In general, wifi or Bluetooth connectivity shouldn’t be seen as deal-breakers, and might even enhance the utility of some products. Once all kitchen devices become smart, and their corresponding interfaces aren’t so janky and fragmented, it might be handy to quickly glance at your phone and see how hot the oven is, how cold the fridge is, and how soon the dishes will be cleaned. But keep one last factor in mind, as you either shop for smart products: hackers have already used smart home products as a springboard to launch their attack. It’s only a matter of time before those attacks start taking malicious advantage of the devices themselves. In other words, do get the range that tells your phone whether the oven is on. But maybe don’t get the one that lets you — or someone else — turn on the broiler through an app.