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A true ‘smart home’ connects to technology outside the home, not within it

Author : Matthew Cockerill, Head of studio in London for Danish design outfit Swift Creatives

11 July 2018

If services like Amazon Fresh can deliver food within the hour will we even need a fridge? This piece will explore how the future of kitchens could look and the knock-on effect for appliance brands.

Image courtesy of Swift

Technology-enabled 'smart homes' has been a hot topic for a few years now. And despite the increasing array of tech’d up domestic appliances coming to market, the hard truth is that for the last 10 years or so manufactures have failed to integrate technology into the home in a way that is valuable enough for us to adopt it on a wide scale: especially when it comes to the kitchen. 

The current fascination in designing and developing smart kitchen appliances is no doubt being driven by manufacturers and appliance companies. But are these products what consumers actually need, or want? We believe technology is being used in the wrong place. Instead of loading up our homes with increasing amounts of technology, we should be enabling better lifestyles with technology from outside the home. 

The development of domestic appliances was really winning up until the 1960s. Refrigerators arrived in the 1930s and washing machines in the 1950s. This new technology radically changed our homes and improved people’s lives, freeing up time and making households far easier to manage. But since then, the idea of adding more technology on top hasn’t really delivered much real change or benefit. Yes, appliances are more efficient and better for the environment, which are all plus points. But have they really added anything extra to our lives than the appliances of the 60s? There are so many fancy food mixers out there but I bet the household favourite continues to be the classically designed KitchenAid with a core design that’s remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. 

The truth is that kitchen appliances work best with a few simple buttons that clearly show us how to use the product. Furthermore, issues of digital privacy and invasive technology in the heart of the home, plus the expense of smart products that don’t add enough value to our lives, means that consumers just aren’t buying into them. Again, we need to look at how technology can enable the kitchen from outside the home, rather than from within. 

Let’s take a step back for a moment. The reason we have a fridge is because we need a buffer between the times when we go food shopping to store our food. Similarly, the laundry basket is a buffer, a stop gap, within the laundry cycle. But if services like Amazon Fresh can deliver ‘just in time' food within the hour, and on-demand laundry services become the norm, then we need a very different type of fridge or washing machine, or perhaps even none at all. This could radically change how we spend time in our kitchens and how they are laid out. 

We could also imagine the same disruptive ideas being applied to the food supply chain. What if farmers across the board were able to put their crops on an Amazon or Ebay-style platform for consumers to buy direct, having freshly picked produce delivered direct to their door the same day, or hour? 

It’s in using technology in these ways - beyond the kitchen - that we can bring about real and significant change to our everyday lives, the kind of which we haven’t seen since the 50s and 60s. This approach means that all the back-end and the digital infrastructure of all the things associated with the kitchen like food supply, cooking, washing, is taken out of the kitchen. This enables it to function as the centre of our family and social life at home, rather than being distracted by an array of overly-complicated devices that are constantly vying for attention. 

The knock-on effect of this is that appliance companies and manufacturers will need to start thinking how they design services as well as, or instead of, products. Or think about how they can partner with service providers like Ocado and Amazon to release the potential of technology outside the kitchen and bring real transformation into the heart of our homes. After all, who really needs cameras inside their fridges and a dishwasher that answers back anyway?

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