Once or twice a week for the next month, we'll be sharing insights from one of our speakers about the opportunities and challenges the industry faces while also hearing a little about how they got started. Today's Q&A is with David Kender, Sr Vice President of Editorial at Reviewed.com, who will moderate the panel entitled, "The Self-Driving Oven: The Next Generation of Technology That Will Define The Kitchen". You can read more about David here.
SKS: How has consumer technology for the home and kitchen changed over the last decade?
Kender: At least as far as I’ve experienced it, there seems to be a fundamental schism between expectations for innovation in the kitchen compared to the rest of the home.
The smartphone was clearly the spark in the powder house, birthing grand expectations for the revolution of, well, everything else. But perhaps it has also left some industries—particularly appliance manufacturers—scratching their heads. Just what does “smart kitchen” mean?
The market rejected most early implementations of phone-like touchscreen interfaces on appliances. It seemed that people didn’t appreciate the unwanted layer between them and their tools. And they certainly weren’t willing to pay extra for the inconvenience.
Particularly in the US, cooking remains rooted in tradition and slow to adopt technologies that stray too far from “how mom did things”. You need look no further than the continued popularity of gas cooktops despite the numerous benefits of induction.
So despite seismic upheavals in the way people consume entertainment in their home, communicate with friends and family in their home, work from home, etc., the kitchen revolution has been sluggish out of the gate.
Few people want to watch TV just like their parents, or use Facebook just like their parents, but many would be perfectly happy to cook just like their parents. If the ”dumb” oven was good enough for all those past Thanksgivings, there’s little credence in the assertion that WiFi would make next Thanksgiving better.
SKS: What’s the most exciting aspect of the emerging smart kitchen industry right now?
Kender: The most exciting thing happening in the smart kitchen space is that companies are slowly starting to realize that they can’t create a walled garden ecosystem and expect success. Apple has set unrealistic expectations that, just because they managed to do it in smartphones, some other company can do it in the kitchen. There are too many products and too many different kinds of behavior in the kitchen that no one ecosystem can or should contain them all—at least not right now.
So when new smart appliances are rolling out, it’s heartening to see that they may tout a marquee partnership—Bosch and Drop, GE and Alexa—but that the underlying technology and opportunity is there for the product to work with other ecosystems.
SKS: What kinds of products in the connected kitchen space do you see becoming mainstream in every consumer home?
Kender: The smaller, more quickly replaced items stand a better chance of early adoption than the giant steel boxes do. Countertop appliances like scales, microwaves, sous vide—the buy-in is much less steep and consumers will be willing to take a chance if the price isn’t outrageous.
It’s also vital to consider the products that no one imagined in the first place. The Amazon Echo isn’t replacing anything; Amazon simply willed it into being. The smart speaker no one was asking for is now a beloved and genuinely useful companion in tens of thousands of kitchens.
SKS: The smart home has been met with a fair amount of skepticism from both the media and the consumer market - do you think the smart kitchen will face the same?
Kender: Take the uphill battles that other smart home products face, double the incline, and you have a sense of what the smart kitchen is up against.
The skepticism among consumers is not ill founded by any means. There have been very few products I’ve seen that hit the sweet spot between “I can afford that” and “makes my life easier”. And that latter quality is a tough nut to crack because consumers aren’t gullible about features that claim to make your life easier, only to present them with a huge learning curve as soon as they take it out of the box.
Large appliance makers face an additional challenge due to the incredibly long replacement cycles: up to ten years or more for a fridge or an oven. So when a customer is standing in the aisle looking at a super-smart oven with all the techno goodies, somewhere in the back of their head they’re wondering if when it comes time to sell the house, they’ll have the equivalent of a Motorola RAZR taking up 20 cubic feet in their kitchen.
SKS: What’s your go to gadget or product in the kitchen that you can’t live without?
Kender: I brought this question up to my wife recently, as she’s far more adept in the kitchen than I am and revels in cooking blogs and Instagram accounts. Our responses could not have been farther apart, and demonstrate how large a gap the smart kitchen industry has to reconcile. “My chef’s knife,” was her reply. “My smartphone” was mine.
Literally the oldest technology in the kitchen versus the bleeding edge of personal computing. Her choice is the go-to hand tool for preparing the foods she loves. Mine is the distraction device that gets me through the chores of cooking and cleaning, with occasional assistance on how to get stains out of clothes or the best way to store leafy greens in the fridge.
I don’t know where the middle ground is there, but I’m confident neither one of us wants a Bluetooth knife.
The Smart Kitchen Summit is happening is in two weeks! If you want to hear David Kender and other leaders talk about the future of the kitchen, cooking and foodtech, get your ticket today!