Where is my internet fridge? I’ve been asking this question for 20 years now. As promised, I’ve got my smartphone, streaming media, and unlimited cloud storage. Put me down for a driverless car. But where’s my flipping internet fridge?
At the dawn of internet time, the connected fridge was as much a part of the future of shopping as the web. You know the drill: sensors that monitor levels of milk, meat and mozzarella; an http hotline to the supermarket; and regular top ups to the door or your recently acquired deposit box – chilled of course.
Every few years the internet fridge is relaunched, wrapped up in the latest tech, but just as awkward and ungainly its predecessors. At the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin earlier this month, the latest incarnation was on display. This time round ingredients included object and voice recognition, and an app spiced up with a dash of cloud technology for good measure.
Watch the promotional videos and you can see how desperate things have become. Two women (always women, sadly) meet for coffee on a bright continental boulevard. “Why don’t you and Eric join us for supper tonight? You can make it? Lovely. Let me check my fridge…”
Boom. The internal fridge camera sends you a list of fresh and juicy produce. Three course meal for four? The app pulls together menus, recipes and a list of missing ingredients. Kapow! One click later, fresh ginger, halloumi and couscous are delivered to your door in a matter of hours. Just in time to remember that Eric has a gluten allergy and your main course is now for the birds, in every sense.
How do you program a fridge?
That’s the problem with fridges. We’ve been programming washing machines and dishwashers for years now. But how do you program a fridge? And why mess with the online shopping model. The shopping list at its most basic, is one of the oldest, most agile consumer subscription models going. It’s easy to replicate digitally as any number of internet grocers have demonstrated.
But try and disrupt it and you come up against the messiness of day-to-day life and our inherent resistance to domestic change. Here’s some promotional material from the IFA event (a process describing the recipe scenario described above).
Who on earth bothers to workflow their shopping list? Software engineers, assorted geeks and a small army of life-hackers, that’s who. The rest of us are just hoping that the left-over rice and vegetables will make it through another day and save us another evening of chopping, boiling and loading the dishwasher.
How did we even get here? The IFA show provided some of the answers. This massive consumer electronics event is a tale of two floors. On the ground, the domestic appliance heavyweights, Miele, Bosche, AEG, dominate the space with hundreds of ovens, induction hobs and vacuum cleaners vying for attention.
Upstairs it’s a different story. Far less impressive at first glance, this is where your connected existence is really coming to life. Small name brands promise not just a connected home, but more specifically, connected renewables and heating systems, connected security, even a connected garden (automatic watering of flower beds once soil moisture falls below a certain level).
Quite frankly it’s a mess compared with the white goods utopia below, but that’s our future – hacked together by smart minds who re-invent and recombine existing technologies in the pursuit of genuine innovation. And not a fridge in sight.
Leave your fridge to chill
My theory is that the white goods manufacturers are still desperately trying to emulate the evolution of the telephone – a domestic device that in a quarter of a century has become the essential hub at the heart of our daily lives.
Not so the devices in your kitchen. However connected, they will always play a niche role in our domestic lives. The washing machine still washes, the oven still bakes, the vacuum cleaner sucks. Instead of pushing it into a role for which it was never prepared, why can’t the fridge just chill?