The Smart Fridge – Better in Theory Than Reality?

By Jeston Furqueron, Senior Developer

My first exposure with the smart fridge was when I went to big box electronics store looking to replace my current fridge, which was on the verge of falling apart. Having grown up in the post space-race era with shows like The Jetsons and promises of future technology, deciding to try out a smart fridge was the obvious progression. Consumers today are willing to jump at the chance and even advocate any level of technology, and I am no exception.

I wasn’t sure what to expect in a fridge that was ‘smart/connected’, but working in the field of technology I had many expectations…it could display recipes while I cook. It could display the ingredients for a cocktail when I have company over, as bartending apps are very easy to use these days. It could find coupons for items I tend to buy regularly. My current phone already has an app that can find coupons for my local store…perhaps it could help me track the calories of what I cook as I remove items for preparation. Again, my phone has an app (LoseIt) which can track my intake in a few seconds, simply by pointing the camera at a barcode.  Maybe it could send me notifications when my produce is about to expire. Perhaps the fridge could let me write notes on the front with a stylus and let me send them as text messages. My wife and I currently use a mini white board and dry erase markers to pass notes. She is apt to remind me when I miss a note she has written. Perhaps I can tap a button quickly, which sends an alert to my phone letting me know the beer I put in the freezer has cooled off. When I have lost my cell phone, perhaps the fridge can give it a ring saving me from many late appointments. If only it could help me find my car keys too! Perhaps if my phone is charging and I get a call I can simply take the call in the kitchen by saying a quick ‘Hello?’.  When I take pictures with my phone, perhaps I could put those photos on display. Magnet industry beware!

None of these situations seem far fetched. Many are already being done and are possible on the phone. The context in which the fridge is used makes even more sense. The kitchen is considered the center of the house. Certainly the king of appliances has caught up and has something modern to offer other than a cold box. Nest has managed to make a thermometer modern. Netflix has made renting movies modern. Coffee makers are automatic. It is time for the fridge.

So off I went on the quest to get my Jetsons’ fridge.

What I found when shopping around a crowded section was only a single smart fridge. It was cast aside by itself off to the side. Despite this, there was an interest from other shoppers. The screen lit up, shining a beacon, which was inviting. People were curious. This is no surprise as adoption rates of new technology have increased exponentially.

Like most people these days, I immediately turned to my phone. I wanted information. I wanted to check out reviews. I wanted to see this in action. I wanted a demo. The seemingly magical future was right in front of me.

First stop was the manufacturer’s website. (Certainly their own refrigerator would be promoted!?) The resulting site was a desert with no oasis regarding smart fridges. In fact, their front page didn’t have a single fridge with a screen…no promotional videos and no feature lists. One could wonder if this thing even existed, let alone what it could do. We are used to downloading ‘demonstration apps’. There were none. Sitting right in front of me was a static screen with no motion. This is not the case for the Apple section and certainly not the case for laptops and televisions.

Turning my attention back to fridge, I noticed the screen had a few apps: some music, some photos, a calendar, and a whole bunch of icons with X’s and other confusing things. Touching the screen was painful and clunky. iPads have had swiping gestures for half a decade. One part of the screen didn’t even respond to tapping. The layout was rough and un-intuitive. Almost everything in this world is within two taps away. The sign up app had a complex screen of 6+ steps with account sign up. No try before you buy model. 

Many reviews have been written with similar experiences. The screen is washed up and hard to use. The design is confusing with limited useful applications. The software was buggy. Connecting the phone and fridge was a nightmare and not seamless. None of the primary objectives for owning a smart fridge were addressed.

To put it simply: it is just a weak tablet glued to the front of any other fridge and nothing more. It is no surprise that on Amazon the fridge has a 0 star rating with 66% of the reviews being 1 star.

As a technologist and fellow geekster, I really, really, really wanted to convince my wife buy into the ‘concept’ of a smart fridge. The biggest mistake is that it remains as that: just an idea. Just a promise of what could be, rather than what is. At the moment, we have to settle for an older iPad propped on the kitchen counter until the fridge market catches up to the rest of us.

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