The plague of “smart refrigerators”

I think we’ve all by now heard of the mad, magical future in which your new refrigerator will have the intelligence to know when you’ve just run out of milk and will automatically order more for you. A perfect digital servant, that just happens to knew exactly which items in your fridge you need repeatedly, at a perfect frequency to match their consumption. But what about stuff I bought once and no longer want? What about the milk that went bad (even before the due date) and has to be poured out all at once? And what about all the commodities I keep on the shelf, and put in the fridge once I open them?

This so-called “smart fridge” is one of those nearly-generic, ubiquitous, almost brainless examples trotted out as a stand-in for for future tech, just as we see those stupid example apps show up on every new “extensible” piece of technology (phone, widgets framework, whatever) – the stocks, sports scores and weather apps. The apps that *no one* ever uses more than the first week of owning that tech (well, I’m sure there’s someone – like the dev – who must use them, but no one I know – and not like “I don’t know anyone who will admit to buying a Michael Jackson album while he was alive”).

Which reminds me of the foolish crapware that used to show up only on new PCs – but now ships with some Android phones and with all “smart TVs”. Ugh – I saw a report recently (https://www.npdgroupblog.com/internet-connected-tvs-are-used-to-watch-tv-and-thats-about-all/) that most smart TV users just watch live, streamed or pre recorded content on their TVs, and almost none use the “smart” apps (generally less than 10% of smart TVs). In my experience they’re a resource of last resort – like when everything else has stopped working you’ll try them, but dog help you if you try willingly – hopes dashed, spirit mashed, ego crashed.

Which also reminds me of a great blog article by Scott Hanselman (My car ships with crapware http://www.hanselman.com/blog/MyCarShipsWithCrapware.aspx) about the terrible interface to the in-dash entertainment system in his new Prius. I’ve got the same one, and I fell victim to the same wow factor when considering the purchase. Once I actually tried to *use* the onboard apps, however, I quickly gave up – too slow, too many clicks, too many unintuitive choices, too few usages that weren’t much more efficient on my smartphone.

I happen to agree with Hanselman – not just about my in-car screen, but the in-TV “smarts” and the soon-to-be-everywhere “smart” appliances. I’d much prefer (at this stage in the “smarts” development) that these lesser apps be removed entirely in favour of just giving me a fully-integrated big screen on which to mirror my already-quite-handy pocket-sized computer. I understand the need for these industries to try to find ways to achieve bigger margins on the sales of these well-established markets. I just believe that these are poorly-executed, lesser-than bolt-ons that add nothing to the primary experience of the device to which they’re attached, and which will be in a few short years a supreme waste of space and an embarrassing relic. I fully expect that I’ll be unable to use *any* of the onboard capabilities of the Prius Entertainment system in three years’ time, and will have to add an aftermarket device or just sell the car to some rube.

I’d personally love to rip and replace the smart interface on my TV with something that was receiving active updates for more than six months from the manufacturer, and which provided me actually-helpful and complementary capabilities I can use right from my TV – and which aren’t just easier and more intuitive on my phone. How’s about a TV guide wired right into my TV? Or something that told me how much TV I’ve watched for the past month or year, and a breakdown of what kinds of shows I’ve watched? (Not that I’d find that info indispensable, but at least it would relate directly and more tightly with the device from which it derived.) How’s about a remote upload capability (push only, no pull – no need to freak out the privacy dudes) for all that data – and more, like power consumption and device health statistics, so I could do something useful and more permanent with that data?

And as for the fridge: how’s about a sensor that tells me how “empty” the fridge is, giving me a clue I should go shopping soon? This could be based on how much power it’s taking to cool the contents each day – or how much the fridge weighs (compared to an average of the last six max weight measures). Or what if the fridge could actually pinpoint where that foul smell is coming from – and better, could give you a warning when the crisper is getting more “moist” (i.e. more “rotty”) than it should be.

That would be a smart device I would actually appreciate.

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