Monday, May 26, 2014

Samsung's Smart Refrigerator

I've recently been reminded about smart refrigerators; fridges that can do more than just refrigerate. I think we are a long way off from any smart refrigerators but you can buy some that are marketed as being smart. I have cherry picked a couple of Samsung smart fridges to talk about: 30 cu. ft. Side by Side Refrigerator and 8" LCD Digital Display with Apps (Manual) and 28 cu. ft. 4-Door Refrigerator with 8" Wi-Fi Enabled LCD and Counter-Height FlexZone™ Drawer (Manual). They include an 8" (tablet) screen that runs Android and comes with several built-in apps. Let's quickly gloss over these built-in apps:
  • Grocery Manager: Lets you manage food items by location, storage date, and expiration date.
    • Allows you to create an inventory of food that is in the fridge, limited to 70 items from 15 different categories. Not as useful as it sounds because you have to manually manage the whole inventory; nothing is automated.
  • Memo: Lets you create, save, or check memos.
    • Digital Post-it notes? Somewhat useful when the LCD hasn't automatically switched off, otherwise SMS instead.
  • Pandora: Plays music provided by the Pandora Internet radio service.
    • I'm betting that the sound quality is going to be awful (couldn't find any specs on the speakers).
  • Epicurious: Lets you view recipes and create shopping lists for the recipes you select.
    • Does not integrate with the built-in grocery management app. Assuming you can read the recipes off the small 8" screen, you would have to turn around to face the fridge to go to the next step. Oh, by the way, "There will be a 4-second commercial when you start Epicurious."
  • Kitchen Phone: Connect to your smartphone using the Samsung Smart Home app and make or receive phone calls.
    • Requires a (recent high-end) Samsung smartphone connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Useless feature if your natural reaction is to use your phone to call, rather than your fridge. Just bring your phone with you into the kitchen.
  • Mirroring: Access the smartphone screen on the refrigerator, and control or change the settings on the phone.
    • This will expand the functionality of the fridge's screen, but just use your phone. Your phone has a higher resolution and will only display in portrait mode on the tablet's landscape screen. Plus, how long are you willing to stand in front of your fridge (while people are opening and closing its doors)? If you don't want people mucking around with your phone, you have to remember to disconnect it from the fridge.
  • Kitchen TV: Connect your Samsung TV to the same network as the refrigerator and watch TV on the refrigerator’s screen.
    • Requires a (recent high-end) Samsung TV connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Just watch TV on your expensive Samsung TV. You'll get better picture and sound quality, and you won't have to touch the fridge every time you want to change channels during those ad breaks.
  • AP News: Displays the news from one of 11 categories you select.
    • Actually, "The news article on the preview page shows the first 2 lines of the entire article. To view the article in detail, visit http://www.ap.org on your mobile phone or PC."
  • Twitter: Displays Twitter messages.
    • Not useful because you can only read tweets and log in from one user account. Would you want your all your family members or flatmates to read your tweets?
  • WeatherBug: Displays the current weather and weather forecast.
    • Not useful, because "There will be a 4-second commercial ad when you start WeatherBug."
  • Calendar: Lets you view the schedule you stored in Google Calendar.
    • Probably the second useful app. You can view your personal and shared Google calendars. You can create events, but "You cannot modify or erase the Google Calendar schedule through the refrigerator display screen" seems like a fatal flaw; How do you correct mistakes in a (newly created) event?
  • Photo: Lets you manage stored photos and import photos from external devices such as memory cards.
    • This might be useful if you like digital photo frames.
  • Phone Finder: Use Phone Finder to find a misplaced smartphone that has the Samsung Smart Home app installed and is connected to the same network as the refrigerator.
    • All it does is ring your lost phone. "The Ringing screen appears and the smartphone rings or beeps for 1 minute. Follow the sound to find the phone." You can easily ring your lost phone yourself or go to http://findmymobile.samsung.com
  • Settings: Lets you set the refrigerator’s basic functions such as Energy Saver, Door Alarm, Time, etc.
    • Probably the first useful app because it is the only way you can customise the refrigeration of your food.
The tagline at the front of the product manual is, "imagine the possibilities." So, without further ado, here are some possibilities that I can imagine but Samsung haven't:
  • The fridge does not automatically recognise the food that it contains: The user has to manually add/remove the groceries they take in/out of the fridge using the built-in grocery manager. Wouldn't it be useful if this could be automatically?
  • A maximum of 70 grocery items from 15 different food categories can be recorded by the grocery manager: It can't record how much of each grocery item is left. Wouldn't it be useful if the fridge could automatically track the amount of groceries left? What about creating virtual partitions within the fridge and allowing people to tag their food so that they don't get confused other other people's (e.g., flatmates) foods?
  • The fridge has no forward-facing camera: Wouldn't it be useful if the fridge could automatically recognise the grocery items you put in and and take out so that the user doesn't have to? Wouldn't it be useful if the fridge could understand the expiry dates printed on the items so that the user doesn't have to manually enter it in? The fridge can use photos of the groceries to display exactly what's inside the fridge. 
  • The fridge doesn't create a list of grocery items that are running low and doesn't do online supermarket shopping: Wouldn't it be useful if the fridge could automatically populate an online supermarket cart with the items that are running low and from the user's custom shopping lists?
  • The included recipe app does not work with the grocery manager to tell the user if they have all the ingredients needed to make the meal: It can create a shopping list of all the ingredients you need but will not take away the ingredients that you already have in your fridge.
  • The tablet software can be updated but there is no way for the user to install additional apps: There is also no internet browser so the user is limited to the functionalities provided by the built-in apps. What if the user is using the recipe app but encounters an ingredient they haven't heard of? Where should they go to find additional information? Certainly not the fridge.
  • The fridge has no ambient light sensor to detect the brightness of the room that it is in: Wouldn't it be nice if the fridge could automatically set a sensible brightness for the tablet's screen and for the lights inside the fridge? No one wants to be blinded in the middle of the night when they go for a snack.
  • The tablet only has an 8" touch screen with no ability to change its viewing angle: The tablet hasn't been designed for the consumption of media. You will have to be at arms length to use the media apps (excluding the photo app). If you sit down, you'll have to be able to reach up to touch the screen. I cannot see people standing in front of their immobile fridge consuming food and media.

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