It’s been five years since I first saw a smart refrigerator with Internet-connected apps at CES and laughed at the idea. Electronics manufacturers were not moved by my mockery and kept at it. And now, at this year’s CES, Samsung has given the smart-fridge concept an upgrade.
Where other smart fridges feature a screen about the size of a tablet (suggesting you should just duct-tape an iPad to your existing fridge and be done with it), Samsung’s new Family Hub features a 21.5-in, high-definition touchscreen that fills most of the top right-hand door.
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The software behind it, based on the same Tizen code in Samsung’s smart TVs and Gear S2 watch, runs the usual apps you’d expect. It can show the weather, play music from streaming services and other devices (the speakers are hidden in the bottom of the fridge doors, but it can also connect to Bluetooth speakers), display the calendars of everybody in the family, show photos, and play recipe videos. If you have a Samsung smart TV, you can also mirror its display on the fridge.
But the Family Hub can also help you order groceries online. Samsung is demoing that feature with FreshDirect and Shop-Rite apps, but it says other vendors — such as Peapod or Instacart — could join them. This touchscreen is low enough for a toddler to reach, so this app requires a PIN before sending in an order for, say, 50 of those little Babybel cheeses my daughter loves. It appears that enough Samsung developers had their kids go crazy with in-app purchases on their phones and tablets.
On the inside, three cameras take a picture of the fridge’s contents each time you close the doors. You can assign expiration dates to individual items. (Hint: if you’re that fastidious about your food, you probably don’t need this feature.) And you can take a peek at what you have at home while you’re in a grocery store.
The Family Hub will ship this spring, but Samsung isn’t talking prices yet. However, I don’t need to know that price to know that I don’t want this thing. It’s not because its features don’t cater to real-world issues. (Although, as a farmers-market snob, I’m probably not the target demographic for the grocery-ordering app). It’s because this fridge, if built at all well, is too likely to outlive its own software.
Will Samsung guarantee that it will ship, at the very least, bug patches and security fixes for the Family Hub for the next 15 years? Without that such an assurance, why would I want to buy a major appliance that doubles as a general-purpose computer? The history of update abandonment of not just phones and tablets but also smart TVs gives me little reason to trust any manufacturer to keep a connected device’s code current for more than a few years.
Meanwhile, I already have a couple of ways to play music, check the weather, see my wife’s calendar or read a recipe in the kitchen: up the phone in my pocket or the tablet on the counter.
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