As I roamed the booths of
2019, looking for the coolest
tech on display, I was struck by a realization: So many brands in the smart kitchen space have made guided cooking apps their frontman.
There were hardware announcements, of course.
paraded out a handful of smart
(in-wall and countertop), including an amazing concept oven with augmented reality and a transparent 27-inch touchscreen.
Watch this: Whirpool and KitchenAid show off connected cooking at CES 2019
We saw Wi-Fi connected multicookers and Alexa-enabled
, but the smart kitchen space is banking on apps. More specifically, it's banking on guided cooking. Digital recipes and step-by-step instructions were the song sung over and over again by multiple companies on the show floor.
Maybe it's the concept of millennial burnout or the idea that my tech-obsessed generation doesn't have the time, patience or mental bandwidth to learn a new recipe, much less experiment in the kitchen. Either way, the message was clear: You need an app for that.
In most cases, the apps are partnering with larger brands. Whirlpool and its subsidiary KitchenAid acquired Yummly and added guided recipes to the KitchenAid Smart Display, KitchenAid Smart Oven+ and that fancy AR concept oven.
Chefman, a small appliance maker, announced that the cooking app Chef IQ is coming to its line of connected slow cookers and other countertop cooking products this year, too. Presumably, if you buy connected appliances from multiple manufacturers, you'll be saddled with multiple apps.
Those are just the headliners. AllRecipes is still in the mix as perhaps the original cooking app. Then there are native integrations on smart displays, like the
Amazon Echo Show
and Lenovo Smart Display. (There's also an entire conversation here about smart displays and how the industry seems to think a millennial will buy anything with a touchscreen on it, but I digress.) And that's where I start to feel overwhelmed.
I'm not opposed to cooking apps. I recognize the clunkiness of hauling your laptop or tablet into the kitchen, taking up counter space, or exposing your phone to water or breadcrumbs, all to pull up a blogger's recipe and scroll through it with sticky fingers. It's a mess.
My fear is that the multiple options for finding and storing recipes, controlling your Wi-Fi connected appliances and keeping tabs on your shopping list will paralyze us into just doing nothing. Rather than buy in to the connected kitchen, we'll just keep googling and wiping our phone screens and wishing there was one app rather than a million.
Whether or not cooking apps are the answer to a smarter, faster meal at home has yet to be seen, but one thing is certain: It's going to be a confusing space for consumers, at least until one or two apps prove their worthiness above all others. Buy a new GE or
smart oven, and you'll have multiple app options. Which one you prefer will likely be trial and error.
Most people won't buy a suite of smart appliances all at once, either. There will be a select few who are remodeling, building or just flat out splurging on a kitchen suite upgrade, but most of us won't. We'll buy individual appliances, small and large, and each one will come with a different app or platform or connectivity method. Soon, we'll be just as bogged down and confused as we were with our old dumb kitchens and recipe books.
An app as part of your smart kitchen makes sense, don't get me wrong. I'd love a command center on my phone or smart display that can track the ingredients in my fridge and pantry to suggest recipes and show me how to make them. However, I only want one. I want one app to wrangle all my appliance control, food storage, recipe creation and grocery shopping together.
The smart kitchen needs a unifier. It needs one app, platform or voice assistant to take charge of connected devices and cooking needs. Like the early days of
platforms and assistants, kitchen-specific smarts still feel a bit jumbled.