What Makes a Smart Kitchen Smart?
This past winter, Sally and I worked on a smart kitchen design with a client. Both husband and wife were tech savvy. Their day jobs were in the tech industry. They both loved to cook. It should have been a match made in Heaven.
After evaluating appliances from Thermador, Subzro, Miele and Jenn-Air, they decided a smart kitchen wasn’t for them, other than purchasing a countertop Insta Pot and a small countertop sous vide set up, both to be stored in an appliance pantry when not in use.
In retrospect, I think their decision was made for a number of reasons:
- Manufacturer’s websites were difficult to navigate.
- It was very difficult to determine what each manufacturer’s WIFI enabled appliances actually were.
- Benefits of the WIFI enabled appliances were not clearly spelled out.
- Some benefits seemed gimmicky.
- Capabilities were limited across product lines.
- The information was so confusing, we assembled a manufacturer’s spread sheet. Researching manufacturers took HOURS!!! Manufacturers – Bullet Points Please! In one place! Don’t make me wander all over the website looking for clues! Time is money and clients hold us accountable for our time.
- The manufacturer’s app based interaction with the appliances were too passive for our client. They told us, “Most of what can be done via the app can be done standing at the appliance.” This felt gimmicky to them.
- They were looking for active engagement via the manufacturer’s app in a manner that enhanced their cooking/kitchen/family experience. They didn’t feel the engagement was there yet.
THE SMART KITCHEN: THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
Before we proceed, let’s establish what a smart kitchen is and/or does. A smart kitchen connects you with appliances via an app on your phone, giving you the ability to interact with/control/monitor your kitchen appliances. In fact most manufacturers whose appliances have these capabilities are using more appropriate descriptors such as “connected kitchen” or “wifi enabled kitchen”, as opposed to smart kitchen. Smart implies the ability to think, learn and adjust behavior(s).
Remember Hal from 2001 A Space Oddyssy 2001? We’re not there yet… For Better or for Worse…
The reality is, the “smart kitchen” is in a state of flux and evolution as manufacturers try to understand/figure out what aspects of the connected kitchen make the most sense, are user friendly and that consumers see as added value. Our client really liked Thermador, although as I indicated, they did not opt for connectivity in their final appliance selections. Let’s take a closer look at Thermador’s offerings to better understand the current state of today’s “smart kitchen”.
The Thermador Connected kitchen
Once I figured out where on Thermador’s website their Connected Kitchen information was, it was actually pretty good, although pretty general in content. From the website, I took 6 pages of notes on ranges, induction cook tops, wall ovens, ventilation, coffee makers, dishwashers, refrigeration and wine refrigeration. All of which led to more questions. I called customer support. They were very knowledgable and helpful. What I particularly liked was if the person didn’t know the answer they deferred, took notes, found someone who knew the answer to my question and got back to me.
The following is a brief summary of my notes and conversations with Thermador. Downloading the HomeConnect app to your phone gives you access to Thermador’s connected appliances. Thermador’s products are also compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. (Note, there is the potential for hacking when you use smart home cloud based connectivity, particularly if it is Amazon or Google based.)
RANGES: Home Connect is available across the Masterpiece Pro and Harmony Collections. You can remote start/preheat the oven from your phone, receive reminders when the oven is preheated or a dish is done. Using the recipes on the phone’s app, oven temperature settings and cook times are sent to the oven. In the 48” and 60” range sizes, both compartments are “connected”.
INDUCTION COOKTOP: You can send settings to via the app and remotely monitor the progress a dish on the cook top. Using the recipes on the phone’s app, cooktop temperature settings and cook times are sent to the cooktop. The exhaust hood venting and lighting can be synched with the cooktop.
WALL OVENS: You can remote start/preheat the oven from your phone, receive reminders when the oven is preheated or a dish is done. Using the recipes on the phone’s app, oven temperature settings and cook times are sent to the oven.
VENTILATION: The hood can be operated independent of the induction cook top via the app or it can be synched with the induction cook top.
COFFEE: Via the app, you can make coffee from anywhere. (As long as there’s a cup under the dispenser.) You can make different kinds of coffee consecutively via the Coffee Playlist. DISHWASHER: Remote start/stop cycles and reorder dish soap tabs via the app. The Starglow interior lighting can be managed via the app.
WINEFRIDGE: Available in the 24” column, the three temperature zones can be controlled via the app. If the door is left ajar, you will be sent a reminder. You can receive wine/food pairing tips and recipe recommendations.
REFRIGERATION: The app enables you to adjust the temperature remotely and receive change water filter notices. Available in the 30” fridge column and 18” freezer column.
DIAGNOSTICS: Can be done remotely. Some error codes can be reset, but in some cases service calls are required. The benefit is the problem/fix will already be identified, so the correct replacement part is brought at the the of the service call.
THE CULINARY EXPERIENCE: You can be guided step by step thru recipes in the app. Wine/food pairing recommendations are offered. You can save/share a recipe with a friend via text. (It’s a little unclear to me as to the source of the recipe you are saving.) Push notifications are sent to you when new recipes are added. Temperature settings of the recipe you are preparing are automatically sent to the wall oven/range.
SMART KITCHENS: MY OBSERVATIONS, WANTS AND DESIRES.
Based on where we are today, the smart kitchen is crawling and still has a ways to go before it walks. In talking with reps from Thermador, it’s clear the smart/connected kitchen is in its infancy. Technology is changing so fast, its hard to keep up and respond. My guess is the industry is trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t and what the consumer truly values. It is gadgets? Time savers? Convenience? Diagnostics? A collaborative environment where appliances learn your habits and preferences?
- I think at the heart of it all is the act of meal prep and cooking. Right now it feels like the engagement is a one way street, all coming at you. A recipe library, guided cooking, sending recipe temperatures to the range and/or wall oven are terrific, but engagement feels passive. To some extent, one size fits all.
- Sally and I love to cook, although Sally has kicked me out of the kitchen, saying, “John, your cooking is boring.” (I’m happy channeling my inner hunter/gatherer messing with the charcoal grille on the patio.) She loves to play with a recipe – making notes, changing the ingredients, etc. Can we make those recipes interactive, with a place for notes and changes? I mean, what if I like my chocolate chip cookies chewy? In the future, let’s make room for some plug and play.
- She has several old recipe boxes filled with 3” x 5” recipe note cards. She’d love to be able to scan and add them to the library.
- What about her favorite recipes from her own cook book library? Scan and add them, too, please?
- Could the app adjust it’s periodic recommendations to your cooking styles and preferences? In turn, perhaps you could ask for recipes built around a certain cooking style, spice, etc. to broaden your experience in a targeted manner?
- What if your oven cooks slightly hot or cool? How do you adjust cooking times if cook times and temperature presets are sent to the range or wall oven? Could the oven detect this and automatically adjust cooking time. Or does one do a diagnosis/schedule service call to fix the problem?
- In my dreams, I’d love to see an exhaust hood that is temperature/odor sensitive and automatically vents accordingly.
- It seems the coffee maker gate keeper will always be the cup. If the cup isn’t under the dispenser, all the bells and whistles aren’t going to work.
- The lowly dishwasher. Can we take a page from the coffee maker’s and washing machine’s play book? A detergent storage tank? Those little capsules are a PIA and they look like candy to little kids. Perhaps the wash cycle is weight sensitive or quantity sensitive, automatically turning on at night after you have put more than 6 plates, 6 saucers, 6 silver settings, etc. in the machine in it?
- When it comes to food storage, it’s all about freshness and preservation in the refrigerator. Temps can be monitored and adjusted manually or via an app. We are even notified when the door is left ajar. Terrific! But there still seems to be a gap between what’s in the fridge and the grocery list. Maybe you use Instacart to save yourself time and aggravation. You can even schedule deliveries to suite you schedule using Instacart. But what if… the fridge could inventory and track usage. Learn your habits and buying patterns. Perhaps it could create a shopping list and place the order for you? (Ideally the pantry would be doing the same thing.) Maybe you can schedule when an order is to be placed to suite your schedule.
- Frankly, the wine fridge is pure luxury. I understand the fact that whites are best served at one temperature. Reds at another. A serious collector would have a temperature controlled wine room in the basement. The fridge would be for show. If most consumers of wine are like me, the turnover in the fridge would be frequent enough that we’re not talking about aging and collecting.
- I love the direction self diagnostics and remote diagnostics are going. Having to pay for a diagnostic service call, wait for parts and then schedule the repair call can be a disrupting and frustrating experience.
- Cloud based connectivity leaves your smart kitchen and home vulnerable hacking. The next step is AI chips in the appliance that will give you local control, without being connected to the cloud.
If Sally and I can help you with any aspect of the design of your home, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the contact form on our website, here:
Or, if you’re not sure if you need to hire an interior designer, please give us a call. We’d be happy to chat.
We also invite you to connect with us on:
Thank you for reading our blog, Design Cognoscenti. We appreciate you!
Get in touch! We'd love to hear from you.CONTACT US
Join our mailing list to keep up to date with our latest posts.