«Smart refrigerators» like the $6,000 Samsung Family Hub refrigerator promise to be everything from an entertainment center to a social hub. But please don’t buy these things. Buying a smart refrigerator is a stupid idea.
I saw the Family Hub refrigerator at CES 2016 and a Samsung rep assured me it was no joke. This is a serious product that you can now buy in stores, but probably should not be.
What is a «smart refrigerator»?
The «smart refrigerator» looks like a regular refrigerator with a tablet stuck to the front. The idea of a smart refrigerator is kind of cool. Playing music, displaying the weather, showing a calendar, functioning as a digital board, and making a shopping list can all make sense in a refrigerator. Some other features, like mirroring your TV in the fridge or viewing photos of its contents from your smartphone, don’t make sense to some, but none of it really matters.
A true «smart fridge» in the future could control itself to provide a real-time updated list of contents, keep track of expiration dates, and possibly order more food when you run out. It can adjust refrigeration levels more intelligently based on what you have in your fridge. Today’s smart refrigerators don’t, although there is an app on the tablet that you can use to manually track your groceries and order more.
Problem One: You’ll Stop Getting Updates and Your Software Will Fall Apart
Even if you think smart fridge features sound great, there’s one big problem: you don’t have a guarantee that the fridge will get updates in a few years or even a year.
Many «smart» devices, including smart TVs, have a similar problem. You can buy a refrigerator, use it successfully for a year, after which its applications are ignored by the manufacturer and become unable to connect to all the web services they depend on. Your smart refrigerator may gradually become dumb.
It’s not just a theory. This Google answer thread contains a catalog of cases where this issue has already occurred. People bought a Samsung smart fridge back in 2012, and by 2014 they were no longer able to connect to Google Calendar on their fridge. Google announced a new way to connect to Google Calendar, but Samsung never bothered to update the refrigerator. After two years, this refrigerator is clearly obsolete and «no longer supported». A year later, after many customers complained, it looks like Samsung has released an update. But during the previous period, Samsung representatives simply gave useful advice, such as «Have you tried resetting the refrigerator?». The above screenshot is taken from this thread.
The $6,000 Samsung Family Hub is based on Tizen, so it doesn’t even run Android apps. If Samsung decides to move to another platform, or app developers leave Tizen behind, enabled apps in the fridge might stop working because they don’t see updates. Heck, these manufacturers can barely keep their phones up to date in a few years — it’s hard to imagine they’d put more work into a refrigerator.
Even at its best with excellent support, it’s hard to imagine a Family Hub refrigerator still functioning well five or ten years from now. Ideally, you should keep the refrigerator much longer.
Problem Two: You’ll Stop Getting Updates and Your Refrigerator Will Become Vulnerable
RELATED:Smart TVs Are Stupid: Why You Don’t Really Want Smart TVs
Updates are not only about functionality, but also about security. We have already seen that manufacturers do not secure many of these smart devices well, and even smart TVs can be compromised.
If your refrigerator is not receiving reliable security updates or stops receiving them completely, it is possible that your refrigerator may have been hacked and infected with malware. This can happen very easily – if you are using an outdated web browser in your refrigerator and you visit a hacked or malicious website, it can infect your refrigerator.
Refrigerator infestation can be a serious problem. If you access services like email and the calendar in the fridge — that’s the whole point — an attacker can access your email and use it to access other accounts. Your refrigerator can also become part of a botnet used to attack and infect others.
Problem 3: You can get a professional-quality refrigerator for the same price.
When it comes down to it, the best argument against smart refrigerators is cost. The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator costs $6,000, which is a lot of money. You can buy a $500 solid refrigerator or a $1,000 high-end refrigerator—of course, for less than $2,000. And it will last much longer than the three years or so during which your smart refrigerator will be fully operational.
But let’s say money doesn’t matter and you want the best refrigerator you can buy. For that kind of money, you can get a high-end, commercial-quality refrigerator from a manufacturer like Sub-Zero. It will last a lot longer and be a better fridge than a $6,000 smart fridge. If you are looking for a high quality luxury appliance, buy a professional quality refrigerator instead of a smart refrigerator.
All of the above problems are solved using a tablet
Let’s say you really want to have Google Calendar, recipe apps, and other features in your fridge. Everything is fine. But you can get all these features by attaching the tablet to a refrigerator. Install an iPad — or even an Android or Windows tablet — on your refrigerator and you’ll have a smart home refrigerator with the best software. Your fridge won’t have cameras that let you view photos of your fridge’s contents, but unless you’re willing to pay $6,000 for this feature within a year or two, you might have to live without it for a while.
Installing a tablet can be quick and easy. Put your iPad or Android tablet in the case, attach Velcro or 3M command strips to it, and attach them to the refrigerator. This should work just fine. You can also get a special refrigerator mount.
You can even remove the tablet from the refrigerator if you want to sit at the table and read something or have a recipe nearby. It is more flexible than a smart refrigerator.
An iPad or Android tablet will have many more apps available than a smart fridge, and the iPad in particular will take years longer to get updates than you would expect from a smart fridge. When your tablet becomes obsolete, you can simply get a new tablet for your existing refrigerator, rather than throw out your entire refrigerator and buy another one for $6,000.
Smart refrigerators might be cool one day, but we just haven’t sold them yet. Paying thousands of dollars for a worse tablet than the iPad just doesn’t make sense. If smart features didn’t cost thousands of dollars, the downsides might be easier to digest.
Image Credit: Samsung, Kars Alfrink, Id1337x, Pelle Sten