Throughout the 20th century, various appliance manufacturers have made their wares better and more useful by introducing innovative features. Some have become programmable, like DVD players. Others can be controlled with a remote controller so you don’t have to get up to activate it or to adjust its settings, like the TV or your AC. Many appliances have also become much more efficient in how they use power. But now that we are in the 21st century, smart home appliances are a growing trend.
So what exactly is a “smart” appliance? This can be a rather complicated topic. Many people think that having an appliance connected to the Internet automatically makes it smart. Others consider an appliance to be smart when you can control it with your smartphone remotely.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference of smart household appliances is to list down the various devices that have smart features. This can show you just how advanced these appliances are compared to their low-tech counterparts.
Of all the appliances in the home, the TV is perhaps the one major appliance that has gone through so many changes and developments through the years. Flat screen Tvs have become standard, and of course the invention of the TV remote freed entire generations of couch potatoes from having to stand up to change the channel and adjust the volume. These TVs also had timers, so you can program them to turn on or off at certain times.
Modern flat screen TVs are known for their connectivity, as they can be used for DVD players, game consoles, and even PCs. You can connect USB sticks and portable hard drives, and get images and videos from your smartphone.
But with smart features, the breadth of features you get has expanded dramatically. At first, smart TVs were all about Internet connectivity. You can download TV shows from YouTube and watch it on a much larger screen instead of using your PC monitor. Netflix came along and offered entire TV seasons for their highly regarded shows.
You can actually use the TV as an Internet machine, and you no longer needed the PC to visit webpages online.
With smart TV apps, smartphone features expanded even more. It’s not only that you can use the smartphone as a substitute for the TV remote. It’s that your smartphone allows you to control your TV even when you’re in the office or out of town.
With apps, the smart TV can now do a lot of things you’d never have thought possible 20 years ago. Now you can program it to download TV shows from the Internet automatically. You can also control what TV shows people can watch on it, so that you can find out (or prevent) your little kids from watching shows for mature audiences. You can send your smartphone videos to your TV wirelessly, and the TV can also act as a screen for your security cameras.
At first, a refrigerator with a screen and Internet connectivity didn’t really make a lot of sense. Sure, you can use the screen and the Internet to download recipes online, but that was about it.
But then manufacturers found a way to install cameras inside the fridge, and that can prove quite helpful when you’re in the grocery store. Do you have enough milk, or eggs, at home? If you can’t remember, that’s okay. You can just go online and then the smart fridge can send you a view or pictures of what’s inside. So you’ll know for a fact if you still have enough eggs or milk, so you can only buy what you need.
What’s more, the latest smart fridges can now read barcodes. This can then let it send you the nutritional info about your food items. Also, it can even tell you the expiration dates of the foodstuffs, so you can consume it beforehand and then buy new food to replace them.
Some fridges can adjust its electrical usage depending on the rates. It can dial itself down during peak usage hours when rates are expensive, and then power up when the rates have gone down. It can also notify you if a door is left open, and soon the fridge may even be smart enough to close the door by itself.
Refrigerators aren’t the only smart kitchen appliances these days. Even ovens have become smarter. Like other intelligent home appliances it enables you to monitor and adjust conditions remotely. So in this case you can control the temperature and the cooking time even when you left it at home, so if it needs a long time in the oven you can go to work and the food is perfectly cooked when you get back.
Through the Internet, it can send you an email or an SMS to notify you when the food is done. Some ovens can even tell you the weight of the food, as well as the calorie content.
Smart Microwaves and Heat Plates
Right now, these aren’t really very necessary or even useful. But in the near future, they can be. That’s because many “ready to heat” items may require special heating instructions, and this info can be placed as part of the packaging that the smart microwave or heat plate can read.
So for example, the food needs to be heated at a precise temperature for exactly 7 minutes. The smart microwave oven can do that automatically. In addition, you can even place the food inside the oven in the morning, and if you plan on eating at precisely noon it can automatically start at 11:53 AM.
At first, there really doesn’t seem to have much of a point in putting in smart features in your washer. But there are several notable exceptions. It can notify you if the wash is done so you don’t have to wait by its side for the wash to finish. Or it can even schedule itself to do the laundry during the hours of the day that costs the least in terms of energy consumption, as some hours may charge more for the use of the electricity.
And then you also have the downloadable wash cycles. If a stain is particularly stubborn, the washing machine can download a wash cycle that automatically programs the machine to wash the clothes more effectively!
The robotic versions of vacuum cleaners have become very popular as of late. They have sensors that map out an entire room so that it can navigate efficiently throughout and not miss a spot. They can sense stairs, and limit themselves to a single room first before moving on to the next one.
These things are powered by rechargeable batteries, and they can also tell you when they need to recharge. In fact, some of them can automatically go back to its recharging dock for more juice, before it resumes its cleaning duties.
A variation of these cleaners can now wash and scrub floors too. They can sense and avoid rugs, and they can even detect and pay more attention to especially stubborn stains on the floor.
Now with your smartphone, you can prefill your pet feeder machine, and you can feed your pets anytime when you’re out of the house at work or on vacation. You don’t have to ask a neighbor or friend to drop in to see that the cats and dogs have eaten. Your app can remind you when it’s time to feed your pet, and your smart appliance can even tell you to go buy some more when it’s nearly empty.
This can now work with aquariums too, and it can do more than feed the fish. Now you can monitor the temperature and cleanliness of the water and make sure that the water is changed on a proper schedule.
The fact that security systems are now mostly embedded with smart features has made it logical for many manufacturers to expand the services to baby monitors. Now you can make sure your baby is safe and comfy, by having sensors inside the baby’s room that can detect movement inside, and monitor the audio levels, temperature, and humidity. The device can send alerts to your smartphone if anything’s amiss, and then you can also adjust the temperature and humidity through your smartphone if your HVAC systems are also smart.
Like any security camera, you can get photos, videos, or even a live feed of your baby at any time. And you can even communicate both ways, so you can talk to the baby if your babysitter is unable to cajole it to sleep. Sometimes the voice of Mommy or Daddy is just what the baby needs to feel comfy.
In various medical and dental clinics all over the world, you can now find sophisticated imaging systems with 3D capabilities. But for home use, you don’t really need anything that complicated. If you’re a science student, however, you can turn your smartphone into a microscope with an app and special lens. You can take your images at the microscopic level and immediately send them on online.
Blood Pressure Monitor
Your smartphone can also become a recording device for smart blood pressure monitors. You can then automatically record your blood pressure, and even send them to your doctor immediately.
Many sprinklers today already have timers, so you can schedule and program when they should water the lawn. But it can be maddening to find out that your sprinklers have activated while it was raining hard!
With smart features, you can prevent that from happening. You can manually stop the sprinklers from activating if you see that it is raining and you’re still in the office. In some cases, smart sprinklers can even download weather reports in advance so that they can fix their watering schedules to factor in showers and rainstorms.
Drawbacks of Smart Technology
All these features are interesting, and some are even very useful. But you have to balance the features with the price, and in some cases (like the refrigerators) the smart features can add another $1,000 to the price. Smart capabilities can be very expensive overall, and for many instances the smart features you get may not justify the additional cost.
Another potential problem is that these features can add another layer of complexity, and that can be very intimidating for older people who are unfamiliar with modern-day technological advances. In 2015, it was found that only 27% of people over 65 years of age use smartphones. So putting in more high-tech features in refrigerators and ovens may not be very appreciated by older folks.
Then there’s also the fact that smart appliances aren’t just more expensive to buy; they’re also more expensive to repair. Part of the problem is that they are also more fragile and temperamental because basically there’s a computer system embedded inside.
Should You Buy Smart Appliances?
That’s not really a “yes or no” type of question, because the answer depends on too many factors. What’s important here is that you balance what smart features you get with the extra cost you have to pay.
So if you get numerous convenient features and you even get energy savings, it’s probably likely that buying a particular smart appliance is a good decision. But if you have to pay a lot just for the opportunity to use a smartphone as a remote, then perhaps you may want to save your money in the meantime.
It’s true that many appliances today are becoming smarter. It’s high time you become a smarter consumer as well!