In the home of the future we’re all going to become digital puppeteers, never having to move rooms as we artfully pull on the wireless strings that connect us to our appliances to make all of our domestic wishes come true. At least, that’s what we’re being led to believe.
Although it’s easy to deride the increasing number of seemingly pointless things that to support some kind digital assistant and/or an app, it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away.
The connected home is growing in scope and usefulness every day and the connected kitchen in particular is now a big part of that.
However, at IFA 2017 in Berlin we felt that there seems to be an overemphasis on the idea that the connected kitchen is so smart is that you can control it from your phone.
At the show, the big names in home appliances from Sharps to LG showed off their shiny new ranges of app-connected white goods but it wasn't the apps that made us think these appliances were smart.
To us, it appeared the main benefit of having a connected kitchen isn’t that it’ll enable you to switch something on without physically touching it, it’s that it’ll genuinely have smarts where many of us don’t, namely in the area of being environmentally conscious.
The problem with a lot of these connected appliances is that they require you to have been in the kitchen to prepare them to be 'smart' later. Your dishwasher and washing machine have to have been loaded with things to wash and your food has to be semi-prepared and in the oven before it can be cooked remotely.
With the kitchen of the immediate future still requiring your brawn, it can seem like we’re trying to shoehorn smart apps into dumb devices to create the illusion that we're saving time. That's not to say the kitchen of the immediate future doesn't have its benefits; the appliances that we saw at IFA were impressive in the sense that they’re prepared to do a lot of the thinking for you when it comes to saving energy and preventing food waste.
All brains, no brawn
For example, while we’re not overly concerned that Sharp’s Love2Cook oven will allow us to remotely cook a spit roast, we do like that it provides 150 pre-prepared recipes tailored to the number of diners so that we know we’re cooking exactly what we need, no more and no less. The chances of food waste are greatly reduced when you’re not blindly throwing things into a pan and dealing with excess cous cous for weeks after one overestimation.
Meanwhile, LG’s Electric Double Oven uses Infrared heating to eliminate the need to pre-heat thereby cutting down use time by around 20% and, by extension, energy use.
Sharps’ new range of Grand Top fridge freezers also do their bit in reducing food waste and energy consumption – more efficient cooling systems means food will be kept longer and the fact that space in the fridge can be converted into freezer space means you’re less likely to have to clear food from your freezer into the bin because of a lack of room.
Sharp's smart washing machine and dishwasher models also enable more environmentally friendly efficiency. Both appliances have intelligent washing features that will detect how many dishes or clothes you’ve loaded them with and adjust water temperature, levels and energy consumption to suit.
LG is also doing its bit to reduce water waste with its QuadWash dishwasher range. By using more spray arms capable of different water intensities, LG says this range can save around 5000 gallons of water every year.
It’s also possible to reduce noise pollution in your home by asking the appliances to run their programs more quietly. Though it’ll take longer to get the job done, the energy consumption won't be excessive and anyone that’s heard their washing machine practically bounce across the kitchen tiles will take some interest in this.
It makes us wonder, then, if we should reconsider our definition of what makes an appliance smart in the kitchen. Though they’re connected to your phone and provide potentially useful notifications in terms of repairs being required and timers to get your attention, these are all things we’ve managed to do without notifications. Sure, they can make us slightly more efficient in terms of time but it’s the ability of these appliances to be more efficient themselves that strikes us as smart.
Being environmentally aware is something we seem to find much more challenging than performing household chores. It’s not that we don’t care, sometimes it’s just that we don’t know how to care and having a kitchen that helps take some of the complexity out of the process is clever indeed.
- IFA 2017 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new phones, watches and other tech as they're announced.