Who’d have thought that the digital revolution would include the humble fridge? The smart fridge first appeared on the market in the late 90s. So smart fridges were a thing even before smartphones. In fact, they were around even before Wi-Fi. Imagine a smart fridge hooked up to a dial-up modem. Your milk would have expired in the time it took to download an MP3!
While they may have been around last century, they weren’t exactly common. By 2003, smart fridges were the latest trend in luxury for the elite few with disposable income to spare, costing around £20,000. Today they’re more affordable for us mere mortals, but are they worth the money?
What’s smart about the smart fridge?
The difference between a smart fridge and a regular fridge is information technology. A smart fridge does everything that a regular fridge does, but it gives you access to the web and allows you to keep track of what’s going on inside by providing information regarding when foodstuffs will expire, etc. It looks like a regular fridge given a makeover by NASA with a tablet touch screen on the front. The tablet is the brains of the appliance which gives it the ‘smart’ label.
What’s not smart about a smart fridge?
If you want the look and feel of high-tech then the smart fridge can deliver the aesthetic you want. However, these fridges are a great deal more expensive than a regular fridge, and they cost more to run and maintain. The benefits that smart fridges offer are exactly the same offered by any tablet, with the addition of knowing what’s in your fridge and when it’s going to expire.
Unfortunately, your smart fridge needs you to scan the products you put inside so it can monitor the contents. You even have to enter the expiration dates for each item individually. This hardly saves time. The other problem is that fruit and vegetables don’t always have a barcode or a printed expiration date.
Back in 2012, Susie Steiner certainly wasn’t impressed with technology, referring to the LG Smart Manager fridge as an “idiot fridge, more like”. Most users would probably agree; there’s nothing smart about a fridge that requires you to tap numbers in every time you open it. Smart devices are supposed to help us be lazier, after all. They do the thinking for us.
It’s a long and winding road
That said, Samsung certainly hasn’t given up on the concept. The company unveiled a new smart fridge model at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. Though ridiculed in some quarters for its clunky appearance (the fridge has a 21.5 inch touchscreen on the front, and is said to resemble a giant android phone), it provides for electronic notes, shopping lists and can order groceries via the touchscreen.
The question is: Do consumers want to communicate with their fridge, or is the old-school appliance unsuited to a digital face-lift? As with many innovations, we don’t know we need something until it’s invented. It may be that taking fridges online can revolutionise our daily lives in ways as yet undiscovered. Besides, some of the benefits from smart fridges are often overlooked. For example, updates on food status can help reduce wastage.
Currently, while the smart fridge concept is cool, it costs more time to use the features than it saves. Smart fridges are fun, but until they learn to read without your help, they won’t really make your life any easier. Fortunately, with the “internet of things” being the topic of the day, smarter smart fridges may not be far off.