It doesn't take several thousand dollars' (or pounds') worth of connected appliances to smarten up your kitchen. With the right gadgetry, you can bring retroactive smarts to the appliances you've already got for a fraction of the cost.
If that approach sounds smart to you, then you'll be happy to know that you'll soon have a couple of new options. They come by way of Smarter, a British startup that's already released a smart tea kettle and a connected coffeemaker. Joining the lineup today here at the in Las Vegas: a trio of smart gadgets designed to work with your existing large appliances -- and ultimately, to work with Apple HomeKit, the set of connected home protocols programmed into iPhones and iPads.
The first gadget is the Smarter Mat. Essentially, it's a Wi-Fi connected place setting that you'll keep in your fridge or cupboard. You'll use Smarter's app to tell the Mat what you're putting on top of it; from there, the Mat will track its weight and let you check how much is left while you're out at the supermarket. The Mat comes in three sizes capable of tracking an increasing number of items, along with a few specialty models built for tracking things like bottles and eggs. Pricing is yet to be finalized, but Smarter tells me that the plan right now is to start at $80 for the smallest Mat (about £55 or AU$110) and go up to $100 for the largest (about £70 or AU$140).
Gadget number two: the Smarter Fridge Cam. It's just what it sounds like -- a connected camera that you'll keep in the fridge. It won't stream live footage to let you confirm that the fridge light does, in fact, turn off when you close the door, but it will snap a picture whenever the door is opened. Pull out your phone at the store, and you'll be able to view the most recent picture to see what you're running low on. It's expected to sell for $100.
Finally, there's the Smarter Detect, a microphone-equipped puck that'll keep an ear out for the telltale sounds of a finished dinner. Namely, you'll train it to listen for the specific sounds your oven, microwave or kitchen timer make when they're finished cooking. When it hears them, it'll send an alert to your phone. Like the camera, it'll sell for $100.
All three of the devices use Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth, which is worth noting for two reasons. First, you can access Wi-Fi devices from anywhere. Bluetooth's limited range would have meant you wouldn't be able to access the devices from beyond the home (as in, when you're out at the grocery and can't remember whether or not you need orange juice). Second, Wi-Fi uses a lot more power than Bluetooth, which can be a problem for battery-powered devices like these.
Still, Smarter tells me that each one is designed to consume as little power as possible (hence the fridge camera's use of photos and not video). The startup also tells me that the battery on each should last about a month. When it runs out, you'll be able to give it a quick re-charge via USB-C.
Something else worth noting: Apple HomeKit is currently a bit picky about what types of smart home gadgets it will work with, with very specific categories that devices must fit into. It's unclear what category something like the Smarter Detect or Mat would fit into, or how those products would ultimately work with HomeKit, but presumably, you'd be able to ask Siri how much ketchup you've got left. What a time to be alive.
At any rate, Smarter might be onto something here -- grocery sensors, fridge cams and cooking notifications have all been touted as marquee features in expensive connected appliances. Now, you can add the same functionality to your existing kitchen without breaking the bank. I'll be interested to see if they catch on -- and if these kinds of peripheral devices put any new pressure on those expensive smart appliances to up their game.
Smarter ships its gadgets internationally, and expects to begin shipping the three new ones by August of this year. When that time comes, we'll be sure to test them out in the kitchen at the CNET Smart Home.