It’s a risky move to buy a suite of internet-connected kitchen appliances. First, there’s the thousands of dollars you’ll need to drop. Then, you have to consider the lifespan of an oven, fridge or dishwasher. You want these products to last a decade, but will the tech that makes them smart quickly become out of date? And there’s the most important, practical question: Do you really need an appliance that you can control from your phone or with your voice?
Whirlpool has become the manufacturer that could finally convince you to take the plunge and buy some smart kitchen appliances that will connect you to the rest of the smart home movement. The century-old company has partnered with big names in tech and food-centric startups, upgraded both large and small appliances with Wi-Fi capabilities, and focused on cool features to make it more appealing to invest in its smart appliances.
Whirlpool isn’t the only company that wants you to put down massive coins for its smart kitchen products. GE Appliances recently introduced a touchscreen hub for the space above your stove that the company wants to become the command center for your life. Samsung is still putting touchscreen hubs in its fridges. And multiple manufacturers such as LG have integrated with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, the digital assistants that enable you to give voice commands to connected appliances and other products.
So what makes Whirlpool stand out?
Like LG and GE Appliances, Whirlpool’s Wi-Fi-enabled appliance works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. But Whirlpool’s announcement that it would release an Apple Watch app this year made it the first appliance company to work with a smart watch platform. Cooperation with Amazon, Google and Apple shows that Whirlpool wants to make products that make it easier for you to tie your appliance into the platform you already prefer, rather than drop your favorite operating system for something new and unproven (looking at you, Samsung and Bixby). That Apple integration could also put Whirlpool in a good spot when Apple’s take on the smart home speaker, the HomePod, comes out this month.
The company thinks small
One of Whirlpool’s most interesting products at CES this year was its over-the-range microwave. The company first introduced the Wi-Fi-enabled microwave in 2017, but the appliance will have some new capabilities this year, such as limited integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The microwave also works with a Scan-to-Cook feature in Whirlpool’s app in which you scan the bar codes of packaged foods to send cooking instructions to the appliance. The microwave will also learn your cooking habits based on which settings you use the most; for example, if you select the same oatmeal setting every morning, that option will eventually become the first thing that pops up on the microwave’s touch panel control.
These microwave innovations are significant because it brings the type of technology we’ve seen in large appliances to smaller and cheaper products. Not ready to buy an oven that costs more than $1,000? You can start with a $619 microwave (not cheap, but cheaper than an oven or a range). Whirlpool doesn’t have a monopoly on smart microwaves. GE Appliances has a over-the-range microwave that uses Bluetooth to connect to ranges so the exhaust fan and lights automatically come on when you turn on a burner. That’s a practical approach, but it’s not as forward looking as the features on Whirlpool’s smart microwave.
Smart features that are fun and useful
We’ve seen companies throw in some connected features that aren’t very useful, like LG’s near-field communication (NFC) on its ovens that let you change the oven settings from your phone (but you still had to be close to your oven) or Dacor’s oven with a built-in tablet that quickly became out of date.
Whirlpool, however, has added connected capabilities to its smart kitchen products that I suspect people will actually use. Whirlpool’s Apple Watch app will let you glance at your wrist for status updates about your oven (along with your washing machine and dryer). This is a use case that makes sense, a quality that isn’t always present in smart appliances.
Whirlpool has also brought convenience onto its kitchen appliances. A new Whirlpool refrigerator has Amazon Dash integration so you can put free, virtual Dash Buttons for your groceries on the fridge’s touchscreen. If you run out of paper towels, you just press a button on your fridge, and Amazon will send you more paper towels.
Whirlpool has also used kitchen appliances to connect you to the rest of your home. A line of connected wall ovens from Whirlpool sub-brand Jenn-Air works with the Nest Learning Thermostat to cool off your home automatically when the oven starts cooking.
Cooperation with startups that know software
Whirlpool was originally set to partner with a company called Innit to run the software in its smart appliances. That deal fell through, but Whirlpool bounced back with the purchase of Yummly, a recipe app that reportedly has more than a million users. It’s through Yummly that Whirlpool introduced one of its coolest tools at this year’s CES: a feature in which you scan food with your device’s camera, and the app will recognize the food and suggest recipes based on what it sees. (This is in addition to the Scan-to-Cook feature I mentioned earlier, which will be a part of Whirlpool’s app. I won’t be surprised if these apps consolidate.)
Whirlpool apparently knows that software isn’t its strong suit, and wisely teamed up with a startup that specializes in creating an easy-to-use, interactive experience. GE Appliances and Bosch have also worked with startups such as Drop and Innit, but Whirlpool’s work with Yummly and the food recognition feature is the most ambitious partnership. And that could draw the attention of existing Yummly users.
Whirlpool has emerged as a leader in smart kitchen appliances. Its products’ thoughtful features and integrations with other tech companies and products will make it easier and more appealing to add a connected kitchen appliance to your home. Other companies like Samsung have made strides in other areas of the smart home, but Whirlpool has thoughtfully gone after the folks who consider their kitchen the center of their household. Other manufacturers will surely keep refining the marriage between smart home and your cooking habits, but for now, Whirlpool kitchen appliances make the best case for adding internet-connected tech to your kitchen.
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