With today’s increasingly frenetic schedules, families are eager to find the time—and the place—to connect. The kitchen is emerging as “the hub–the emotional anchor–of the home,” says John Herrington, senior vice president and general manager of home appliances at Samsung. But families aren’t coming together there simply to cook, eat, and clean up. They’re re-inventing the kitchen as the social center of the house, catching up on each other’s activities, shopping, even enjoying entertainment together.
For kitchenware manufacturers, this presents a daunting challenge: meeting a wave of new digital needs and expectations.
The shift has unleashed a host of smart appliances that harness the power of sensors, improved voice recognition, and advances in cameras and object detection. What was once the stuff of science fiction—a frying pan that tells you when your meal is done, a refrigerator that lets you peek inside the shelves from the grocery store aisle—is becoming reality.
These new technologies are not only changing how we shop, cook, and eat. (Consider the advent of “personalized nutrition,” where handheld sensors indicate if there’s gluten in your meal.) They may also be shaping the way family members interact with one another.
At a recent event in New York showcasing Samsung’s new version of its smart refrigerator, the Family Hub, Michael Wolf, founder of the annual Smart Kitchen Summit, and Yoon Lee, Samsung’s senior vice president of product innovation, shared where kitchen technology is headed next. Here, Wolf and Lee discuss how kitchen technology is changing—and how it’s changing us.
FastCo.Works: What’s your vision for the kitchen of the future?
Michael Wolf: We’ll see changes at every step of the food discovery, buying, storage, and cooking process. Content and connected devices will increasingly work together to guide people through cooking, to educate them and take their skills to the next level. We’ll see increasingly more personalized nutrition and tastes through a better understanding of what you’re eating through more advanced sensor technology.
Yoon Lee: The kitchen is taking on a bigger role in the home. Our research finds that people are really doing three things–one around food, obviously, the second around family, and the third, around entertainment. We researched how people consume entertainment in the home, and found that the kitchen is often at the center. People actually listen to music the most there. The kitchen has also become your family command center where you share content, you share stories, and you congregate.
FCW: How do those trends influence product development and design?
YL: The big question we’re trying to answer is, how can we create a platform that serves those activities with your connected life? In testing the Family Hub, there were internal debates about attaching such a large fixed screen instead of a detachable little tablet. Well, one of the surprising things we heard from consumers is that it’s comforting to know that there’s a screen that doesn’t move.
MW: The kitchen space itself will change as new intelligence will moves into the fabric of the kitchen itself. We’ll see growing use of community screens and media, following the strong adoption of personal screens in the kitchen that we’re seeing now. These changes will enable interesting new use cases, where products are developed to meet more specific and tailored needs.
YL: Now I can run up to my refrigerator and there’s always a screen there for me to do what I need to do—access my calendar, add to the shopping list, read notes from my kids, buy groceries online, see family photos, play music. I don’t have to look around for my tablet.
What we learned from our research is that people want an entry point to our virtual world in a much savvier way than those small screens offer. And now we are beginning to incorporate voice recognition as well. If you’re in the middle of cooking, the best way to communicate is through voice.
FCW: How does the technology change how family members interact?
YL: We have a built-in camera that shoots inside the refrigerator. You can then circle an item and add a note—like, “This is only for Grandma”—and then broadcast that to all of your family members’ cell phones. Or say your sixth-grade daughter comes home and opens the door, and her favorite juice is all gone. She can now update the shopping list, which can automatically be viewed on dad’s phone as he is shopping at the market, so that he knows to get more juice.
FCW: What role does the kitchen play in the evolution of the internet of things in the home?
YL: I don’t think anyone disagrees with the value proposition of the smart home, but there is still friction in the way it’s installed and experienced. What we would like to do with the kitchen—since people spend so many hours there—is provide convenient ways to connect to other parts of your house.
For example, if someone is at the door, we could have a screen that pops up on your refrigerator so that you can see who is there. Or if there is a basement washing machine that’s done, your Family Hub could give you that alert.
FCW: If the kitchen is increasingly a gathering place, how does the new technology shape the family dynamic?
YL: About seven years ago, we did a big study asking, if you had one function on your phone: call or text, what would it be? Back then, people 17 and under selected text, and those 24 and above selected call. Nowadays, if you ask, just about everyone selects text.
There’s now the same emotional bonding if you receive a text as when you receive a call—or even more. So I think that’s what’s going to happen with new technologies in the kitchen, too. I can’t say how, but I’m confident that there will be new family bonding mechanisms and emotional connections.
This article was created and commissioned by Samsung. To learn more about the new model of Family Hub, visit Samsung.com.