Molly Price

If there’s one area of the smart home that enjoys a nearly constant barrage of new technology, it’s the kitchen . Not just because consumers spend so much time in that space, but because there are so many different angles of attack for making it smarter.

Ethan Miller, Getty Images© Provided by CNET Ethan Miller, Getty ImagesFood 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.

a close up of a shelf: The WLabs Smart Countertop Oven recognizes some foods. Chris Monroe/CNET© Provided by CNET The WLabs Smart Countertop Oven recognizes some foods. Chris Monroe/CNET

Better food recognition

Amazon smart oven prices pricing kitchen© James Martin/CNETAmazon 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.

I don’t think it’s far off, given that LG announced an AI chip focused on recognizing objects and Amazon won a patent for a fridge that can sense spoiled food, but so far, none has come to market.

The Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi can be controlled with your smartphone. Tyler Lizenby/CNET© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. The Instant Pot Smart Wi-Fi can be controlled with your smartphone. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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 close up of a coffee cup on a counter: Tyler Lizenby/CNET© Provided by CNET Tyler Lizenby/CNETA 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.

I’d love to see more countertop appliances add Wi-Fi. Given how many smart locks and light bulbs we’ve seen take that approach and ditch hubs and bridges, it seems like a reasonable request.

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.

How the Google Home Hub can help you cook a delicious meal

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.

Conclusion

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 contentsmicrowaves 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.