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Last Updated: September 8, 2016
Smart appliances are falling short of their expectation, at least for now.
You may feel as if every company is making something "smart": smartphones, smart bulbs, smart locks, smart thermostats, smart window shades, smart sensors, smart this, smart that. Imbuing these devices with connected intelligent makes sense most of the time. Automating their functions, even logically group different functions together, will surely make our lives a bit easier.
But one group of "smart" devices make a bit less sense, at least today: smart appliances.
Other than the Oculus Rift and other VR headsets, arguably the most talked-about device at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show was an appliance—Samsung's Family Hub Refrigerator ($5,000-$6,000), which will feature a 21-inch touchscreen on its door when it launches this May. But aside from its tablet-in-the-door feature, what really makes the Samsung cooler "smart" are its array of inside cameras that snap a picture of the smart fridge's interior each time you close its door. You can then access these photos to do your grocery shopping, either in a supermarket or from the Samsung fridge's app.
Samsung isn't the only smart fridge purveyor. Also at CES, Whirlpool exhibited its Connected French Door fridge ($3,799), which will also includes internal camera and online shopping capabilities when it hits stores this spring. Along with these photographic fridge still lifes, Whirlpool's Android or iOS app will let you view and control varying zone temperatures and sends alerts when servicing is necessary. Whirlpool will also be selling a smart dishwasher ($949) and smart gas and electric ranges ($1,899) come the spring, joining the company's existing smart washers and dryers.
Bosch, too, will be bringing a smart fridge with interior cameras to the U.S. along with other smart appliances including an oven, dishwasher and washing machine by the beginning of 2017.
What Smart Appliances Can–and Can't–Do
But the lack of truly smart functionality of Samsung's, Whirlpool's and Bosch's "smart" fridges lies in the basic intelligence limits of these appliances. While the primary functions of other "smart" gear (think Philips smart bulbs) can be initiated by an app, control of an so-called smart fridge, for example, is impossible without human interaction of a physical object.
In other words, via an app, a smart light bulb can be turned on an off and a smart lock can be locked or unlocked. But an app can't automatically order groceries or put them in the fridge. A push of a button can't transport food into an oven, not stack dishes into the dishwasher.
As a result, the smarts of a "smart" kitchen appliances are limited today. Take the smart fridge. Its "smart" activities are limited to the cameras, zone temperature control and service monitoring: letting you know when its water filter needs replacing, even automatically re-ordering said filters just as HP's smart printers automatically re-order ink cartridges.
But, some kitchen-based appliances, however, are certainly enhanced by their app smarts. A smart oven, or even Belkin's funky WeMo Crock-Pot ($129.99), can be pre-heated remotely, ready to cook when you get home from work or even started from work and ready when you get home. A smart oven can be started with pre-sets for your favorite lasagna, or alert you if you're upstairs when the timer goes off. An interior (and obviously heat-resistant) camera could even allow you to remotely monitor your meal as its cooking.
Similarly, a smart dishwasher, washer and dryer remotely monitors then alerts you when a load is finished, let you program to remotely start a cycle to run when electrical rates are lower—even automatically add the right amount of detergent from a pre-loaded reservoir. That's all well and good. But these (and potential future app-centric) appliance functions simply add convenience—they don't actual save labor. You still have to do all the physical heavy lifting involved: put the pot roast in the pot, add the detergent and clothes to the cylinder, and stack the dirty lasagna pan into the dishwasher.
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Smart Appliance Systems
Not only can't these tasks be automated, smart appliances also can't be grouped to work in concert yet. For instance, in a smart home, tapping a "good night" smartphone control can trigger a series of events such as turning off your smart lights, lowering the shades, dropping the temperature on a smart thermostat, bolting the front door's smart lock, closing the smart garage door and arming the smart home sensors and alarms. That's a big timesaver.
But there's no analogous option for your kitchen's smart appliances. Imagine a "clean my stuff" control that would trigger your dishwasher and washing machine to automatically load up and start simultaneously soaping and sloshing. Still, that's not stopping appliance makers from introducing their own smart ecosystems.
For instance, LG is readying its open Smart Thinq system – not to be confused with Samsung's SmartThings smart gear platform. As a concept, the ZigBee-compatible Smart Thinq system is focused on monitoring smart energy usage. Smart Thinq also incorporates LG's Nest-compatible HomeChat, which let's you "text" instructions to compatible appliances, which can then "text" you back with alerts or status. It's nice to have everything on one network—but you still can't string them together. Yet.
In the spring, LG will be releasing a Smart Thinq Amazon Echo-like Bluetooth speaker and smart hub with a 3.5-inch color screen that displays the time and date and status information. There'll also be Smart Thinq motion sensors. Attached to a dumb washing machine, for instance, the sensor can detect motion–or lack thereof–and alert you that your load must be done.
Smart Thinq control will be incorporated into LG's smart WebOS 3.0-enabled OLED TVs, similar to how all of Samsung's 2016 TVs will include SmartThings operational and monitoring functions.
Bosch is boosting its own open Home Connect appliance platform, currently available in Europe and coming to the U.S. later this year along with its smart appliances. Home Connect is designed to be a one-system-to-rule-them-all such as Apple's HomeKit and Google's Weave, but more appliance-centric.
As more appliance link together, the chances grow for brands to have these work in concert. A refrigerator that can defrost a chicken targeted for Sunday's roast? (And reorder another one for the week following?) Maybe even cook it in a separate compartment?
Once upon a time we had separate ice cabinets. And carbonated water required seltzer bottles Today our fridge makes ice fresh everyday—and adds fizz to that same water line when we crave some sparkling. Can we make our appliances even more "smart?" That remains to be seen.
If you need help installing any of these home automation systems or devices, you can visit HomeAdvisor.com to find a local trusted professional.
(Check out The GearBrain to see what other connected devices work with Google Home or Amazon Alexa enabled device.)
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