Most smart appliances are stupid

“Smart”. Many device and appliance manufacturers toss that word around like they know what it means.

An app platform on a TV? Voila! It’s a “Smart TV”

An LCD screen and/or an app platform on a refrigerator, washer or dryer? Voila! It’s a “Smart Appliance”.

You go ahead and keep using that word, manufacturers. Just understand that it doesn’t mean what you think it means. You’re turning it into a meaningless modifier, like “green”, “natural”, or one of my favorites, “healthy”.

Let me offer you a hint. Anything that leads the blurb describing itself with a meaningless modifier usually doesn’t actually do the thing it purports to do. Way back in 2010, I discussed ¬†how it was important for purveyors of “family room devices” and app authors to understand the difference between single-user and multiple-user applications/experiences, rather than just shoving the entire (single-user) smart phone experience into the “smart TV”. Just like task-oriented computing for any other class of user, designing proper smart TVs, and even more importantly, smart appliances, needs to start with solving the actual problems that users are having, not just crap out LCD displays on top of old refrigerators or washers and dryers.

Let me start with a real-world collection of problems that I have with appliances, tell you why fixing them is truly “smart”, and why adding an LCD display or “apps” to an appliance won’t solve any of them.

Dishwasher:

  • Problem: I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, but forgot to start it.
  • Solution: Send my phone a notification and tell me before I go to bed.
  • Problem: I unloaded, reloaded, and started the dishwasher but forgot soap.
  • Solution: Send my phone a notification and tell me after it starts so I can fix it.

Oven:

  • Problem: I set a timer for a dish I’m baking, and it has been going off for a minute.
  • Solution: Send my phone a notification or CALL ME!

Washer or dryer:

  • Problem: A load of clothes has finished and is ready for the next step.
  • Solution: Send my phone a notification so I can move them/fold/hang them.

You get the idea. Things that can hook in here? Doorbells. Smoke alarms/CO detectors. Garage doors to tell me I left them open and it’s 11 PM. The list goes on and on. Simple notifications to tell me something’s not going the way it should, or I need to pay attention to something I’m not.

None of these involve a display or that much intelligence. What they do involve is:

  1. Network interconnectivity within appliances (WiFi, Bluetooth 4, Zigbee, whatever to a centralized service. Pick a standard across the industry and go with it – a rising tide lifts all boats.
  2. A willingness for someone to step up and build an intra-appliance API for pushing notifications
  3. A kick-ass (simple) user interface for apps on major mobile platforms like Nest has.

Yes – admitting that the smart phone or tablet is the hub of our lives, not our refrigerator or washer and dryer, is also a key tenet. Is that news?

Smart appliances aren’t about doing more things on our appliances. Sorry to break that to you, appliance vendors. It’s about appliances integrating into the way we use them, and helping us make the most of them. Stop adding apps. Stop adding screens. Start solving problems.

3 comments

  1. Good article. I always forget to take the laundry out when it’s done, a push notification will save so much time! Also, I’m pretty sure LiftMaster garage door openers already have the push notification feature with their MyQ app. You can mess with the settings and get a text or email that lets you know when your garage is open, and you can close it with the app.

  2. Well said. My washer and dryer are in the garage and I can’t hear the buzzer if I have music or tv on. because of smart dry technology where my dryer stops at the optimal time and doesn’t over dry my clothes, I can’t just set a timer, I have to keep getting up to check my clothes so that they don’t get to wrinkled. I NEED push notification. I DONT NEED a touchscreen or useless apps. Is there anything like this out there?

  3. Thanks for the reply, Zack. I’m not aware of anything that does it, yet… Necessity is the mother of invention, though. Maybe we’ll see something someday soon.