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Making The Connected Case

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Is there a use case for a connected fridge?

We’ve seen the stats, we’ve heard the predictions: By 2020 the Smart Home market is set to reach $149 billion in revenue worldwide (emarketer.com). But here’s the thing...consumers, families and household are not going to turn into the Jetsons in the next 3-4 years. The question then beckons, is there really a use case for connected appliances? Let’s look at the connected fridge as an example.

First steps

The first steps into meaningful connectivity have been small and you can argue quite simplistic. Refrigerators are connected to the Internet and an interface is attached to the fridge for the consumer to use. Simply put, we are looking at a tablet device stuck onto a refrigerator.

Many functions, like listening to music or checking your photos, may not make sense, but there is an argument for creating a great online recipe book and an interactive family pin board. These are just the first steps, so let’s cut them some slack, right?

Well, not really. The big issue with first steps is that they are often not thought through. The meaningfulness for users is thin and while you might attract early adopters, the masses will not see how this will benefit them. In addition, we are already seeing technical problems around security and updates.

Refrigerators that cost substantially more because of their connectivity have their lifespan substantially cut because their operating system cannot be remotely updated. Just like your smartphone updates over the air, any connected device must be able to do the same to stay on top of newest technology and security updates. This is already possible through OTA (Over-The-Air Update) functionality which is complex to build but many connectivity providers will be able to offer you.

Next steps are happening today

Fridge app lets you see what's in your fridge at homeToday, we can already do more than a tablet stuck to a fridge door. We can think about how to disrupt the appliance market with something more meaningful to consumers. Something that makes their life more convenient and solves a real problem for them.

Here an example: Rushing home from work, your are thinking about a nice cuppa when you get home. Do you have milk? Are you certain? This scenario has left many with either no milk, too much milk or sometimes the winning feeling to have guessed correctly.

How easy would it be to just pull your smartphone out of your pocket and check the contents of your fridge? With reducing costs of hardware and improved technology, cameras working at low temperatures are available. 2-3 of these can take a holistic fridge image each time the door closes and send it to the app.

You are putting your fridge into your customers’ pockets. The best thing, this can be done with our without the additional interface at the front of the fridge. With OTA built in and options for seamless onboarding this is a real value proposition for consumers today that will ensure their fridges are actually smart and have a normal appliance lifespan.

The future is nigh

Truly, the future is nigh. Market analysts, technologists and consumer research firms are predicting a steep incline in the demand for consumer products. Remember the value of $149 billion revenue globally coming from smart home devices alone by 2020?

To get to this, the connectivity proposition needs to be made even more meaningful.

Let’s have a look at this graph:

connected fridge

 

The smart refrigerator sends the images of its content to the cloud.

Through logo reading technology already available today, we understand what is in the fridge and this data can be shared with retailers for automatic replenishment or ordering.

FMCG organisations are excited about this as they can share customised promotions directly with customers based on trying to move consumers from brand A to their brand B.

The consumer now not only sees the contents of the fridge on the go, but with the data can simply push the button to order staples, take advantage of promotions and complete their shopping intelligently on the go.

Suddenly, the fridge door to a $65 billion monthly market (US household spend on food according to USDA.gov) has opened. Strategic alliance between technology providers, FMCGs, retailers and you, the manufacturers make the connected fridge an actual meaningful experience for consumers.

It’s possible today

All the above options are possible today.

The hardware and software, the security needed and remote updating functionality are ready to be integrated into refrigerators. The questions that manufacturers have to ask themselves are:

  1. Do we want to gain the early mover advantage?
  2. Can we develop the connectivity functionality needed in house or do we require a partner?

Both are questions required internal engineering, operations, product development and business units to come together. Our advice, don’t underestimate the development complexity, especially around security and OTA. The success of a meaningful connected fridge relies on strategic partnerships right from technology development to connecting the big players.

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About the author Anatoly Lebedev is the co-founder and CEO of Cesanta who aim to bring all products online. They work with appliance manufacturers to unearth meaningful connectivity options and deliver full integration services.

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