In Search Of The Netflix And Roku Of The Smart Kitchen

When I first started writing about the connected home back in the 90s, it was apparent even in those early days that the Internet and in-home networks were a foundation for massive change. Whether it was new Internet-based phone services like Skype, streaming music services like Rhapsody or some of the early smart home products, it was clear that the advancement of computer technology and the network would change things in significant and unforeseen ways.

But for all the ways the connected home has changed our lives, it become clear in the intervening decade that the defining battle in this space was in the digital living room. Just about the time Wi-Fi became a household word, a steady drumbeat of innovation around Internet video could be heard, growing louder each year, until today where we find ourselves living in a completely new TV landscape, one where the barbarians have not only have broken down the gate, but they’ve moved in and kicked out some of the incumbents.

Just consider: Netflix is now the biggest paid video subscription provider in the US. Apple TV and Roku households number in the tens of millions. And nowadays, the biggest talents in Hollywood are more interested in doing creative deals with Amazon and Netflix than old-school TV networks and movie studios. At the same time, mobile screens have become a part of our mobile living rooms, changing how a generation of consumers consume and interact around entertainment. The end result is a hundred billion dollar plus industry has been transformed, as tens of billions have shifted from the incumbents to those companies who rethought an industry.

Is June The Roku Of The Connected Kitchen?

But more than a decade into the Netflix era, the dust is settling. Sure, there’s still lots of excitement ahead around ever-more immersive video experiences, exciting new technologies like 4K and VR (both of which are immensely interesting), but at this point we all know the old living room is not the new living room and have a pretty good idea where this story is going to go.

That’s not the case with the kitchen. In fact, this central gathering place in the home is on the precipice of a massive wave of change and, like the digital living room a decade ago, is showing many of the same early signs:

Ok, so where exactly IS the opportunity here?

Simple: Everywhere. Just as we saw how new technology changed how people consume, acquire, store and talk about entertainment in the living room, so are we beginning to see how technology will change the entire delivery, storage and consumption of food in the coming decade.

But the comparison to the living room isn’t perfect since food and the connected kitchen is a much bigger opportunity, if for the simple reason that everyone eats. Overall food budgets are probably 5–10 times that of video entertainment, and the issues of being more efficient with food extends well beyond middle and upper class households (video entertainment’s sweet spot), but worldwide, across every region. And unlike video entertainment, those of use who cook are engaging in the act of creating something. Consumers spend massive amount of time and dollars trying to create better food, and for many of us technology will change how we do that in nearly every way in the coming decade.

This will happen as new technology and resulting business models are applied to every step of putting food on the table: shopping/replenishment, delivery, storage, preparation, serving and consumption. Part of it is the network itself, as connectivity and computing enabling us to better understand what food we have, to shop for it and how to cook it. But it’s so much more, with new cooking technologies such as RF cookingimaging,molecular sensing, and more all making its way into our kitchens. We’re seeing professional cooking techniques democratized and now being made available to consumers, and high-end and messy hobbies becoming more and more automated to enable busy consumers to try their hand at them. And we haven’t even mentioned the widespread health benefits of being under to better understand your food through technology.

Predicting the future is hard, but I think it’s safe to say that at some point we’ll likely see all of the following become commonplace:

  • Food subscriptions, connected food commerce and near real-time, automated food delivery (drone delivery of your Blue Apron fresh meal anyone?).
  • More and more levels of cooking automation and advanced tools to help us take our cooking “craft” to high levels if we so desire (or we may just let the the machines to it all ; yes, in some form, cooking “robots” are coming).
  • Better information to help us handle our food so we don’t waste nearly as much as we do today.
  • More unprocessed foods coming into the home and as technology allows those who want to reduce the amount of ”industrial” processing of the past by collapsing some of those functions into devices in the home.

I could go on. And while I expect all of this to happen, the one ingredient that’s missing to make all of this happen sooner rather than later is the industry still needs some companies to step up and set the pace, to create the template.

It needs catalysts.  

In other words, we’re still searching for the Netflix and Roku for the kitchen.

An earlier version of this post appeared first in Forbes