There are a growing number of appliances out there that are web-enabled but really, is it a good thing?
Once you get past all the hype about a washing machine, dishwasher, fridge or whatever connected to the internet, in our opinion, they are not a lot of use on a practical level. Sure, you can monitor your dishwasher, fridge or washing machine over the internet and see what it's doing but do you care?
Surely most people just want it to do the job it was intended for and not to watch it remotely from their office.
Of course there is an inherent flaw in this plan that not many people seem to have picked up on, you can't remotely load the dishes into the machine, or a load into the washer, or move the load from the washer to the dryer!
There are also some very real and quite frightening privacy issues that need to be addressed.
Of course the technology review blogs and press go wild as it's something to report and review so there is a lot of hype, mostly from marketing people, around these types of appliances but when you actually delve into them and review the notion itself, for us the promises start to fall apart.
In a connected home that is automated the only possible use for these devices is to alert the house and thereby the owner if there is a problem with the appliance or that it has finished its cycle.
The problem with fault reporting is that, thus far, it would appear that this reports to the manufacturers own service (whatever that may be) and allows the customer zero choice in his or her choice of repairer, allowing the manufacturer carte blanche to charge what they want to repair the appliance.
In our experience, it is also virtually impossible for a non-agent to attend these appliances as well as they have fault codes, diagnostics and resets that the manufacturers will not divulge to third party repairers or, if they do, it's usually at a horrendous cost to get the information.
We have to wonder however at the reaction that people would have to their appliances calling for service of their own accord. We'd bet that most people would not like that one bit.
We think however that this is just another excuse to sell people on the idea of having their appliances connected, read on to find out why.
But then we have the connected fridge,
One of the first "smart" fridges was from LG at nearly £3000! It can connect to the internet via it's built-in modem, which is too bad if, like any connected home should have you use ethernet and a central access by router to the internet as you will still need to get a phone connection close to it.
Even if it does tell you what it's doing, what would it tell you? I mean, either the appliance is working or it's not and it may be interesting for a week or so to see how often the door was opened or whatever but you would soon tire of looking at such pointless statistics and, in any case, you really know how you and your family use the fridge anyway!
More recently we have started to see more of these showcase products appearing that appear to be more of a "look what we can do" type thing, much like concept cars, whilst not being a serious proposition for most people both on a practical level but, also financially.
The next bright idea is to put a bar-code scanner in the door so you can scan in and out all the food. Great idea, but not in the real world of using the appliance! I couldn't imagine even 10% of my customers would even care about it and I know that there is no way I could talk my partner into scanning the milk every time she took it out to make a cuppa. Nope, i can't see that being a winner somehow. then, on top of that you could bet your bottom dollar that some deal will be done with a supermarket to automatically provide you with the shopping that you had used, so that means one of two things either:
1. You only get in the delivery what you used from the fridge - or - 2. You have to scan *everything* you use!
Do you start to see why I see this as an impractical idea right now?
There are plans in place to try to use the tiny electronic RFID tags that can be used instead of bar-code scanners to identify usage of food and other domestic perishable goods etc. but its a long way off being a system that can be fully realised.
Another selling point is to have recipes and extended information displayed on a touchscreen on an oven or a fridge.
Great but, what's the point?
You can go buy an Android based tablet or, all too often an iPad for less than the cost of a silly small screen on an oven that can do so, so much more. Asides from which, it's a whole heap easier to read a tablet at whatever angle you want or, on a stand on your kitchen worktop then it is on the front of a built in oven or a fridge freezer.
For us this is an epic failure to use the technology in a sensible way, it appears to us to be there simply to show it can be done and we would suspect strongly that after the initial buzz wears off that these sorts of screens would be little used (if at all) for anything other than control.
As for building apps into these things, do you really want your friends and family on Google or Facebook to know what you had for dinner or that you went through eight bottles of Coke this week? We doubt that many people really want to share their eating habits.
Then there's the cost of repairing them when they break like the iChef oven from Gorenje shown. It won't be cheap, which means you need a service plan. Which, won't be cheap.
A lot of people are going to get twitchy about this sort of thing as, in this digital always connected age in which we live, our privacy is already under siege by global corporations and, not just internet companies like Google or Facebook.
What we mean is, do you really want a global corporation knowing how often and how much product that you use in your appliances or what you eat and when?
That information is worth money to many large companies and any number of supermarket chains. Quite likely a lot of money.
There is a very real privacy concern here.
The money involved is quite probably why so many companies are interested in this kind of technology being adopted in normal homes. And, it can be big names like Google, Samsung, LG, Electrolux, Whirlpool and many more that are pushing for this sort of "functionality" on the appliances.
Just imagine getting emailed special offers from Tesco or whoever prompting you to pop in and buy more Comfort conditioner, Persil powder, dishwasher tablets and more because they know when you last bought some and, they know how many cycles that you have run. So, they know you need more.
Or, the same or similar from the detergent manufacturers perhaps even offering you a discount coupon to encourage you to buy their products only.
All the while the appliance manufacturer is raking in the cash from selling that information to these companies.
Or, on your fridge, the screen is telling you to go to Asda and buy more milk or cheese, or eggs... the same thing would happen, you'd get codes and vouchers to try to get you back into the store to buy your whole shopping there.
This information is gold for these companies, all of them.
If you think this is far fetched and will never happen, think again. It already happens on a grand scale with extended warranties in this industry where the manufacturer will "sell" their customers to people like Domestic & General (DAG) for them to sell you onto a service plan and, that's worth millions to the manufacturers in kickbacks.
Even simpler however is the thought, if there isn't any money in it then why are these companies all so interested?
It is here, now. It is real, the technology already exists and it is happening.
In my opinion the current crop of connected appliances are nice gloss on the manufacturer's ranges but, in all honesty, I see them as being no more than that or maybe perhaps a gimmick to sell more expensive machines. The technologies in this field are also moving ahead rapidly with new automation protocols and systems promised in the near future from big players like Microsoft so buying a connected appliance now may well be a mistake as the technologies will march on and you may well have a device that is of little use in a couple of years time.
For more information on home automation technologies please have a look at Automated Home
As I'm sure you'd guessed I'm not too impressed with the current ranges of connected appliances and believe it or not, one of my primary hobbies is home automation so I'd love to see useful devices like this, but alas as far as I can see, there are none.
I do see great dangers in this though.