We’ve become pretty used to the idea that digital technology has been spreading into all facets of our lives.
The Internet is now moving into a stage of evolution where it's going from visible to invisible, or rather fading into the background of our lives. Everything we are doing (and will do) with the net will become increasingly seamless and frictionless.
This is most apparent with domestic appliances, like a refrigerator or an oven. Even though 'smart appliances' have existed for some time, 2013 marks the year we're finally reaching a tipping point in the widespread adoption of these intelligent machines.
The kitchen is finally going high-tech. And it’s going to be a change unlike anything we’ve seen before with the Internet.
Of course, there are challenges in bringing the Internet into kitchens. Given that people spend a significant amount of time in a kitchen, a digital experience with, say, a fridge requires a wholly different experience than the ones we have with a laptop, smartphone or tablet.
The technology has to be perfectly smooth and easy-to-use. It also has to make a cooking experience better, not complicated or frustrating. Most of all, it has to blend in with the environment, so that a digital interface doesn’t detract from the kitchen’s aesthetics.
So what to look out for in the coming year when it comes to digital and the kitchen? We’ve got a few ideas for you.
In a smart kitchen, mobility and apps are running the show
People love using apps on their smartphones and tablets. It’s increasingly commonplace for us to use apps to open a car door, monitor a security system or in a thousand other ways.
At this point in a smart kitchen's evolution, mobile monitoring is the most pervasive technology we've got when it comes to net-enabled devices.
Yet with growing amounts of computing power in our mobile devices, we're seeing more and more app developers releasing software that makes cooking a truly immersive experience. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, these kinds of smartphone-based apps that sync with domestic appliances like a fridge were on full display:
One example of this is the summer release of the Dacor Wall Oven, which comes with a Discovery IQ Controller for Android devices. Let's say you're on the road somewhere and you want to know what's being made for dinner by a family member at home. The Dacor will not only tell you via an app what's being cooked in the oven, but also give the person at home proper cooking instructions.
Smart fridges are also providing information on what's inside, letting you know what you're running out of or what's reaching its best before date by sending notifications to your smartphone or tablet.
All of these technologies serve the purpose of filling the gap on food information that you may not readily have in front of you, but would like to know about. This is the future of cooking with net-connected devices: information on the food you're preparing is monitored, supported and distributed to you in real-time, all the time.
Smart devices will automate almost everything in the kitchen
We're all very busy people, that's a given. Still, we want our cooking experiences to be pleasurable, healthy for our bodies and above all — convenient. That's where smart kitchens really shine; everything we'll use in a kitchen with net-enabled appliances will take the tedious, time-consuming legwork out of cooking.
A smart kitchen will be able to do everything that makes cooking a pleasure but eliminates virtually all the rote tasks involved (save for buying groceries). The technology, connected to the net, will be able to send you texts with reminders that an oven is heated up and ready for food. Emergency numbers will be instantly displayed on a touch screen interface in the kitchen for a babysitter to use.
Part of this involves smart technology that 'learns' about specific human behaviours in the kitchen, adapting to a person's customizable needs. One example of this is the Electrolux Inspiro oven, in which the appliance calculates how much heat and time is needed to cook food to a person's specifications.
The bottom line for consumers is this: a smart kitchen's greatest utility is in how it not only makes cooking easier during the act of food preparation itself, but also how it anticipates our needs ahead of time.
Digital tech in the kitchen isn’t just about utility — it’s about mood and how it makes you feel
One of the biggest reasons smart kitchens haven't taken off as of yet in the marketplace is because of negative perceptions. Many people see their kitchens as a safe space, largely free from computing. For these reasons, it's a challenge to get people on board with, say, a net-connected oven.
Making the technology effectively 'invisible' is a vital part of the smart kitchen. One of the biggest barriers to mass market adoption of these tools is the belief that too much technology in a kitchen will make people feel uncomfortable (or even hostile) to cooking.
Fortunately, a lot of smart appliance manufacturers out there get that form is just as important as functionality when it comes to a smart kitchen.
The biggest trick to this approach is making smart tech in the kitchen 'fun.' This involves a litany of digital tools and tricks, from the Monday Mug — a coffee cup that digitally transitions from a grumpy face to a happy one when it gets coffee — to an electric range cooker that essentially does all the monitoring of, say, a turkey in the oven, while you work on other tasks.
Another big incentive to get people on board with smart tech? Eco-friendly technology. People don't want their cooking to feel like an industrial activity; it has to be a fulfilling experience that's also sensitive to the Earth.
As Stefano Marzano, chief design officer at Electrolux, pointed out in an interview:
Sustainable design focuses on creating products with the least possible negative impact on the environment, featuring eco-sound materials, energy efficiency and easy recycling. The future of sustainable design is a culmination of what consumers see on the surface of a product, and how the product enables them to make a change for the better.
While it's difficult to tell if consumers will go forward and adopt smart technology in their kitchens en masse — there will always be people who prefer the traditional approach — this year is looking like the year consumers finally come on board to a digital fridge or smart oven.
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