The first-ever Smart Kitchen Summit, held in Seattle, WA in November, drew some 250 attendees from an interesting cross-section of marketing, tech, product development and design professionals. All gathered to share ideas and insights into the state and future of many of the technological innovations that are finding their way into our homes, most notably by way of our kitchens.
Many think the kitchen will be the next gateway to introduce high tech and connectivity conveniences into our lives, much like what has happened in our living rooms. The traditional broadcasting model of TV, music and entertainment has been fundamentally changed, or “disrupted,” with streaming on-demand content being the new normal. The landscape of our living rooms has changed as well, with flat-screen TVs, Bluetooth speakers and iPads.
The creator and curator of the Smart Kitchen Summit was Michael Wolf, consumer analyst and principal of NextMarket Insights, who also hosts a podcast called “Smart Home Show.” The Summit’s ambitious agenda featured 40+ innovators, entrepreneurs, journalists and CEOs, organized into 30-minute panel discussions on various aspects of product development, marketing, connectivity and possibilities.
According to Wolf, the kitchen is at the beginning of a massive disruption over the next decade. The way we shop, how food is delivered, how we store it and how we cook our food are all ripe for change. Technology can work holistically with innovators and trusted brands in the kitchen more effectively than in other parts of the home. Of course, it needs to be seamless, rather than intimidating, and good design is a big part of that.
One presenter, renowned kitchen designer Johnny Grey, talked about the idea of “disruptors” in kitchen design, having had a similar experience when he first introduced his “unfitted kitchen” that changed the way kitchens are designed today. Over the years, Grey has evolved his design style into a more emotionally based artisan style, incorporating thoughtful ergonomics and Wabi Sabi elements he calls “Rough Lux.” Translating design into emotion is his guiding principal. Assessing this high-tech storm from his unique perspective, he described how the introduction of electricity and indoor plumbing fundamentally changed the kitchen, along with continuous cabinetry, standardized appliances and open floor plans.
Now, we are developing devices as extensions of our brains that advise us and collaborate with us through interactive functions, helping us to lead more convenient and healthy lives. Grey cites the example of Ikea’s conceptual design – called Smart Table – as an example of smart furniture interacting with us to achieve a more mindful approach to food and its preparation. There is a fascinating YouTube video about this conceptual product at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qD60cBQOABY.
Representatives from Dacor, Electrolux and Moen were among the panel presenters who talked about products they’ve already brought to market and what may be in the pipeline for the future.
We already have, but underutilize, many innovative products like touchless and sensor faucets, interactive ovens and refrigerators with built in Wi-Fi connectivity. However, many of the new products discussed were smaller countertop appliances and devices.
The reasoning for this is simple from a marketing standpoint: The average lifespan of large, built-in appliances is 8-10 years – too long for most product innovators who want to see quick and early adoption of their product. Hence, there is a surplus of smart tea, coffee and beer brewing appliances, amazingly smart and efficient countertop ovens, toasters, slow cookers, sous vide cookers, scales, cookware and smart recipe devices, to name a few.
The kitchen is the new toolshed for early adaptors of innovative technology, but as kitchen designers, we are trending toward more sleek, minimalistic designs with fully integrated appliances and uncluttered surfaces. Are these competing trends a disconnect?
It’s generally acknowledged that people eat healthier when they eat at home. There already are many food delivery services that have made real inroads with busy millennials, like Freshub, Peapod and Blue Apron. These are subscription meal services delivered to your door complete with detailed instructions to prepare delicious and healthy meals, effectively eliminating the shopping and planning aspects of traditional meal preparation.
Wi-Fi-enabled helpers like Amazon’s Echo and WeMo offer convenience and interactive information services as well as offering the possibility of interacting with one’s appliances, lighting & HVAC controls and security systems.
Devices like Hiku (http://hiku.us/) allow users to scan barcodes of items in the kitchen and easily upload shopping lists to a smart phone – or to a shopping service like Peapod – for a fast and easy shopping experience. Personally, I went from never having heard of a Hiku shopping button to being pretty well convinced I absolutely needed one.
Before being exposed to all of this heady and futuristic information, I had considered myself reasonably computer savvy and tech aware, albeit in a Baby Boomer kind of way. I will admit to compiling an impressive list of “things to Google” during this conference. I did not know, for example, that “IoT” is an entire field of market specialty – Internet of Things, for you fellow dinosaurs.
A list of some of the things I had to Google included WeMo, OrangeChef Drop, SmartPlate, Anova Culinary, Amazon Echo, Amazon Dash, Sage, June Oven, Hiku, Peapod, Freshub, Picobrew, ChefSteps, Yummly, Teforia, Seva Coffee and Freescale.
Smart technology continues to change how homeowners cook – a trend that impacts both built-in appliances and smaller, countertop ones. And while kitchen designers have long focused on major appliances, understanding how these countertop appliances are changing the way people cook is important for design professionals who need to understand everything that is trending in the kitchen.
Already available in the marketplace is the tantalizing Juno oven (http://www.cnet.com/products/june-intelligent-oven) – described by one attendee as a “super fancy toaster oven.” Admittedly, this stylish countertop oven is designed for “hands off” cooking – it is described by the manufacturer as a computer that cooks, boasting the concept of “live stream baking.” The oven is equipped with a camera that recognizes what users put into it, and remembers how they like it cooked, or recognizes how it is cooked by other users.
Recipes and software updates are downloaded through a processor commonly used in mobile devices, so the concept is – the more people who use it, the more recipes and cooking techniques it will have available. Of course, it notifies the user when the dish is ready, and offers remote control settings (which practically goes without saying in today’s Wi-Fi connected home).
Our kitchens are already becoming much more connected by how we access recipes now. The quiet revolution of the iPad over the traditional cookbook has already taken place through hugely popular apps such as Yummly and ChefSteps, that go beyond traditional recipes by being more interactive, instructional and holistic, coaching us through the steps of meal preparation in a more intuitive way. Connectivity can make things easier and better with automatic updates to the software in our appliances, diagnostic services for remote repairs and linking our appliances to work together, for a more seamless meal preparation experience.
Most conferences, KBIS among them, are so industry specific that we tend toward tunnel vision, not recognizing what’s going on in parallel industries that affect trends and product development. By overlapping our industry with more development and conceptual “upstream” industries, we can help influence the coming changes.
In his study of consumer markets and emerging trends, Michael Wolf has seen promising, innovative products come out that are rejected by consumers. Too many good product introductions just plain misfire.
As kitchen and bath industry professionals, we have a unique understanding of how our customers use their kitchens, what their issues are and what’s important to them. The fusing of our two worlds can result in less development time and money being wasted. We could effectively bypass some growing pains of new products and technologies that get introduced for use in the kitchen.
During the networking sessions, many of the attendees were asking, “Why haven’t we done this before?” The interfacing of players from across industries was powerful. There was a sense we were being exposed to possibilities and developments in their early stages, rather than the “done deal” of most product introductions.
This being the first Smart Kitchen Summit, there is opportunity to partner with this event in a more meaningful way and expand our role in future summits through co-marketing, cross educational sessions and networking. Pulling the tech industry and the kitchen industry more closely together is a benefit to both. As kitchen and bath design professionals, we can prepare for the future and identify macro trends through a clearer conversation with innovator types and possibly influence the outcomes of future products and services as well.
Conference attendee Marie Blackburn, CMKBD, CID, of MLB Design Group in Seattle, WA, reflected on this enthusiasm and almost frenzied level of “things” being developed to make our lives more convenient and efficient. “The inevitable ‘Internet of Things’ is viewed by many as the next exciting worldwide change – as important a watershed moment in technology and culture as the Industrial Revolution and the Internet Revolution. The key premise of the ‘Internet of Things’ is that technology will solve problems without input from people,” she noted.
Perhaps this is a good argument for us to become more involved in representing the needs of our customers and our own practical experience to temper and influence some of this rapidly developing technology. Some of us may see ourselves as “aging out” before embracing this technology becomes vitally important to our business, while other design professionals and manufacturers enthusiastically embrace the many possibilities evolving technology and connectivity offer to our clients and to our work.
Summit creator Michael Wolf will be making a presentation about the Smart Kitchen Summit at KBIS this month, where he will take his message directly to our industry. Consumers’ behavior will continue to change and drive our industry, with increased focus on how we cook, nutrition awareness, efficiency, access to information, convenience and security. We are being brought back to the kitchen table – make that “Smart Table” – in a fundamental way to better understand what we’re eating and how we’re cooking it for best benefit. As an example, Wolf pointed out that 70% of consumers brew their own coffee daily, but less than 10% brew their own beer. If it was as easy as brewing coffee, wouldn’t more of us do it?
Joel Fraley, CKD, CAPS, of Fraley + Company in Portland, OR said he attended the conference because he likes to stay on top of developing technology as much as possible. “Of course, we are still a ways off – at least 10 years away from having this type of technology truly incorporated into our kitchens,” he observed. Personally, he prefers a more simple kitchen design, and admits to being skeptical about fancy coffee, tea and beer brewing machines. “All I need is a refrigerator, a heat source and running water in a kitchen,” he said jokingly. As a more “hands on” kind of cook, he reflects the sentiment of many who use cooking and meal preparation as a soothing way to unwind at the end of a busy, tech-overloaded day. “Some people even like going to the grocery store,” he adds.
But that isn’t the case for everyone, from millennials expecting speed and technology in all aspects of their lives to older consumers who no longer want to carry heavy bags from store to car to home.
And I must admit that, after a long and busy day, I find myself pining for that Hiku button myself!
An affiliate of Ellen Cheever & Associates, Kathleen Donohue, CMKBD, CAPS, has been involved in the kitchen and bath industry for over 35 years as a design professional, educator, author and consultant. She currently lives and works in Bend, OR, where she designed and supervised Neil Kelly showrooms in Bend and Seattle, and she designs & sells remodeling projects for Neil Kelly Co. in Oregon and Washington.