Despite numerous concerns expressed by analysts and a healthy skepticism by consumers, appliance manufacturers seem determined to integrate large touchscreen panels into connected kitchen appliances. Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator is the poster child for this trend, but we’re seeing a new wave (and some new innovation) in this area at CES this year.
Samgung will update the Family Hub Refrigerator this year with its Bixby voice assistant, tighter SmartThings integration, and a premium audio speaker. The large, 29″ touchscreen sports an Android interface that’s somewhat modified to work more like a digital family post-board, but much of it still feels like phone or tablet apps just enlarged to render on the big screen. The speaker, by AKG, will allow consumers to enjoy audio from music services or Bluetooth streaming devices. In total, Samsung plans to release four new models of the Family Hub fridge.
Meanwhile this year, LG will augment its clever InstaView Refrigerator with a 29″ transparent touchscreen display. The original ability to glance into the fridge and door-in-door features are still there, but you can also call up a full display which takes over the full window. The interface (‘fridge user interface…FUI?) seems much better tailored to the standing use cases these devices serve than Samsung’s. The new, 2018 model also features a built-in Bluetooth speaker and Alexa on board.
Also, GE is introducing an over-the-stove hood called the kitchen hub [all lower case, for some reason] that dominantly features a 27″ touchscreen, cameras, and connectivity. You might not even recognize it as a range hood except for its proximity, which gives us some pause. The concept is interesting—video chat with friends and family while cooking, look up recipes, view and share video of your cooktop while you’re cooking, plus your usual family calendar and contact stuff. But does reaching over (or up to, if you’re younger) the stove to interact with a smart screen make sense from a safety perspective?
The long-term concern about products like these, as I’ve expressed on Home: On and at last year’s Smart Kitchen Summit, is the incongruity between the expected lifetime of an electronic component like a 29″ Android panel and a durable product like a kitchen appliance. Arguably, the technology will likely become obsolete—or, worse yet, unsupported—in about five years, while the appliances themselves are typically expected to stick around for about 15 years. So what happens when that big screen no longer functions? I’d love for these manufacturers to prove me wrong, but it’s bound to happen.