Smart home technology – specifically thinking here about white goods – has a problem that no one seems to be talking about.

For many years we’ve been hearing keynote speeches at CES about how all of our kitchen devices are going to be able to talk to each other, and it seems like 2018 is the year that a few companies have actually managed to crack it. 

During the LG keynote, a feature was presented that allowed you to bring up a recipe on the door of your smart fridge, start the cooking process and it would automatically turn the oven on to preheat to the right temperature. 

Hey Bixby, call the installer

Samsung likewise was touting its range of smart kitchen tech that finally can all be controlled from one slick interface in the Family Hub fridge. This is thanks to Samsung’s industry-leading work with its SmartThings hub. It also announced that SmartThings is coming to the Gear S3, so you’ll be able to control your home from your watch.

Given that it’s Samsung, the announcement detailed the inclusion of Bixby, it’s own offering to the voice assistant market. This means that we’re genuinely entering the age where you’ll be able to pop to the shops, and while you’re there ask Bixby if you’ve got milk in the fridge. Heady times indeed.

Samsung’s Family Hub fridge

The problem is that technology becomes redundant at a far faster rate than the devices that the technology is being put into. If you need to replace your phone every couple of years, it’s inconvenient but it’s not the end of the world. If your oven becomes worthless after four years, that’s a serious problem.

Not only is it a significantly larger financial investment, it requires specialist installation that is a much bigger upheaval than replacing a device you can fit in your pocket. Often a kitchen is designed with your key white goods in mind, so replacing them would mean your kitchen no longer works from a design point of view.

We now live in a day and age where white goods shouldn’t be considered luxury items, so a malfunction taking an oven or fridge out of action means you’re suddenly faced with a major bill to replace something that is essential to your everyday life, so cannot be put off for a ‘better time’.

A modern, modular solution

One solution is to make these smart goods modular. If it was only the door of your oven that had technology in it, with the rest of it being a standard oven, then you’d only need to replace the door, not the entire unit, with the calling out of an engineer and the staggering cost associated with replacing an essential part of your kitchen. 

Likewise for your smart fridge, a simple panel that houses the screen and speaker that can pop out would then mean manufacturers simply have to comply to certain dimension and coupling requirements when creating updates, and the user doesn’t get left saddling the cost of keeping up with a constantly evolving market. 

Redundancy is a big issue at the moment with Apple in hot water with its handling of the iPhone 6’s obsolescence coming back to bite it in a big way, so manufacturers need to be giving serious thought to how this issue is going to be tackled.

A McLaren, running on an Amstrad (no, not really)

A couple of years ago it came to light that the McLaren F1 team found themselves in the situation that their £10 million cars were having to be maintained using a Compaq LTE 5280 laptop from 1996 due to a compatibility issue that meant the computer couldn’t be updated. 

This is a major organisation with vast amounts of money to invest in keeping a modern and a redundant technology running simultaneously, but the reality is that for a general user, once your smart speaker or phone overtakes your washing machine by more than a couple of generations, they are simply going to stop being able to communicate with each other. And you won’t have McLaren’s deep pockets or engineering dream team to fudge together a fix in time for dinner.

The manufacturers are almost undoubtedly aware of this problem, but it would be nice to see what efforts are being made (if any) to stop this from becoming a major issue in a few years time. 

At the moment, it’s only high-end, luxury items that have this smart technology in. This means it may be a problem that only those that can afford it suffer. But this technology will trickle down to all devices, so it needs to be rectified and soon. The answer may not be modular, but a solution needs to be found.

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