Food recognition? Sure. Voice controls? You bet. Automated reordering or live cooking classes with world-class chefs? That too. So what could manufacturers and developers possibly do to improve the crowded smart kitchen of 2020? Well, hold onto your bread robots, because I have thoughts.
Better food recognition
Amazon smart oven prices pricing kitchen
The smart kitchen hinges on appliances learning to think for themselves, and that includes recognizing food. We’ve seen this dish-detecting tech in the June Oven and more recently in Whirlpool’sWLabs Smart Oven. When it works, it takes the guesswork out of baking, roasting, even dehydrating. When it doesn’t, you’re left with burnt biscuits and a screeching smoke detector.
Meanwhile, the Amazon Smart Oven and Tovala Smart Oven can scan packaged foods sold in grocery stores. Sure, you might still have to stir and the Amazon model is unabashedly Whole Foods-focused, but these devices use finely tuned algorithms to make use of power levels and other modes you would probably skip over if you were doing it yourself.
Food recognition needs improvement, then it needs to be extended into more full-size ovens and fridges . We’ve seen a few concepts demonstrated at trade shows, like Samsung’s Family Hub fridge that recognized food and the concept in-wall oven Whirlpool brought to CES last year with augmented reality, but AI that makes more decisions based on the food it sees is a necessary progression for smarter kitchens.
Smarter small appliances
Companies have worked hard to bring smarts like voice control to large appliances, while small appliances are beginning to fall behind. There are a few smart coffee makers out there, and you can get an Instant Pot with Wi-Fi, but by and large most small appliances can only be smartened with a smart plug for simple on and off control.
The only smart small appliances that have shown promise are smart countertop ovens. A smarter kitchen should include appliances of all sizes, even blenders, coffee makers or toasters.
A dream smart kitchen (at least for me) is a place where a recipe you’ve sent to your oven requires an onion to be finely chopped and your smart food processor knows exactly how long to run before that onion turns into a tear-inducing puree. It’s a world where you don’t have to set a timer, because your mixer knows to knead the dough with a hook for 8 minutes, then stop.
A tidier world of kitchen apps
There are dozens of kitchen apps, and I’m not one to complain about options (OK, there was that one time). There are apps for recipes and apps for smart large appliances. Those apps link to Google Assistant or Alexa apps. There are apps for ordering groceries and ways to order groceries through your Family Hub or with your voice assistant. It’s dizzying. I’d wager there are people out there who aren’t seeing their smart kitchen’s full potential because learning to organize, link and use those apps and features in an efficient symphony is just too overwhelming.
A streamlined option, maybe broader partnerships, could create a one-stop shop for EVERYTHING. That’s complex — apps that control an oven and apps that order groceries and apps that show recipes are different animals. The best attempts we’ve seen are Chefling and Drop, apps that have recipes, control several brands of smart appliances and have a shopping list feature.
It feels a bit like the beginning of the smart home when some devices worked with Alexa, some with SmartThings and some with Google Assistant. In the smart home of 2015, there was a mishmash of devices that worked well individually, but didn’t talk to each other. The smart kitchen feels that way now.
We’ve come a long way in the smart kitchen in just the few years it’s been a thing. We’ve got refrigerators that know their contents, microwaves that order popcorn and soon it will be hard to buy a new oven without Wi-Fi. We’re poised to see all these categories expand again this year at CES, ready or not.
Whether those expansions will take the shape of new appliances, improved AI or an app that wraps up all our kitchen needs in one place is yet to be seen. Our CNET Smart Home team will on the ground in Las Vegas to find the companies answering our smart kitchen cravings, so stay tuned.