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Smart Home

Whirlpool, GE and the dozens of cooking apps crowding the smart kitchen

Commentary: The connected kitchen is getting complicated. And this is just the beginning.

Josh Miller/CNET

As I roamed the booths of CES 2019, looking for the coolest kitchen 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. Whirlpool and KitchenAid paraded out a handful of smart ovens (in-wall and countertop), including an amazing concept oven with augmented reality and a transparent 27-inch touchscreen.

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We saw Wi-Fi connected multicookers and Alexa-enabled coffee makers, 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.

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Whirlpool's Connected Hub Wall Oven has a touchscreen with augmented reality built in. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Haier and GE scooped up integrations with Drop, Hestan Cue, Chefling and Innit. All of those recipe apps will integrate in one way or another with GE's connected appliances

Google embraced the idea of the guided cooking app with Innit's new smart action on the Google Home Hub and other Google Assistant smart displays, in addition to the 13 cooking websites it already uses to create its recipe library. 

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.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

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 LG 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.

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The Samsung Family Hub line will soon recognize some basic foods, but that's just one piece of the puzzle. 

Ry Crist/CNET

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 smart home platforms and assistants, kitchen-specific smarts still feel a bit jumbled.

Maybe Google will come out on top, since we've already seen the Google Home Hub, Lenovo Smart Display and upcoming KitchenAid Smart Display make cooking a priority. That dominance isn't a sure thing. It's still too early to declare a winner in the smart kitchen.

Maybe that's asking too much of 2019. Perhaps 2020 will bring us one, unifying app to rule the kitchen.

Smart home devices come of age at CES: Did this category just mature a little?

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