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Last Call: Why does anyone own smart appliances?

Hands holding smartphone connected to a smart coffeemaker, visible in background
Photo: Onfokus (Getty Images)
Last CallLast CallLast Call is The Takeout’s online watering hole where you can chat, share recipes, and use the comment section as an open thread. Here’s what we’ve been reading/watching/listening around the office today.

Earlier this week, we talked about how hackers can break into your personal laptops and other home devices by exploiting a security flaw in smart coffee makers. Kitchens are increasingly equipped with everything from smart kettles to smart refrigerators, which can connect to the internet and be controlled remotely from your smartphone. But is there really any advantage to this sleek set of app-based capabilities? Is the convenience they purport to add to our lives a mere fabrication?

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I promise I’m not being flippant here. I genuinely want to know why people purchase smart appliances connected to the vast Internet of Things network, because there might be great reasons to spend extra money incorporating these products into our everyday lives that I’m simply not considering. Do smart appliances increase accessibility, for example? That’s certainly a promising use case, though this TechCrunch article highlights certain drawbacks to high-tech accessible homes.

To illustrate why I so badly need this education, I present to you a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago:

FRIEND: The best thing I bought myself this year was an Amazon Alexa smart plug. You can use them to control appliances you already have.

ME: Interesting. What do you use yours for?

FRIEND: I use it to make my coffee in the morning before I get out of bed. I set up the grounds and the water the night before, then in the morning I can tell Alexa to hit the start button. It’s so amazing to roll out of bed and just pour myself a cup of freshly made coffee.

ME: I do that, too. My drip coffee maker has a timer so you can program it to make a cup every day at, say, 7 a.m. I think most coffee makers do that?

FRIEND: Yeah, but I don’t always know exactly what time I’ll wake up, so this way I get to brew it whenever I wake up.

ME: I mean, sure, but my timer keeps the coffee hot within a two-hour window of whenever it brews. Isn’t that basically the same thing?

FRIEND: Yeah, but this is so much better.

ME: Why?

FRIEND: Well... because, I don’t know, I guess it’s nice to yell at a machine to do the thing I want it to do. And then the machine does it.

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Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a convincing reason to spend $25. Maybe you’ve got a more compelling argument to share in the comments below? I’ll honestly be a lot happier if you don’t manage to sell me on all manner of kitchen robots, but try your best/do your worst.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

clackmannan
clackmannan

They’re mostly pointless, a solution in search of a problem. The last house I moved into had a Nest thermostat, which I promptly threw away and replaced with a 7-day programmable Honeywell.

The new house I bought last week had programmable wifi-enabled pinpad locks on every exterior door. The owner had no keys, no programming PINs to reprogram them, and only 2 PINs for the 4 doors. Needless to say the locksmith came the next day and took them all off.

As a general rule of thumb I assume that any IoT gadget is susceptible to hacking, likely to not work when power resumes after an outage, or is entirely dependent on the vendors cloud (which can either fail, or be turned off on a whim).

They’re analogous to all the electronic gizmo’s on a car, it’s just more stuff to fail, and they’re more expensive (in both monetary costs, and my time) when they fail. So the less I use them the easier my life is.