“Smart fridges” like the $6000 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 fridge is a dumb idea.
I saw the “Family Hub” fridge at CES 2016, and was assured by a Samsung representative that it wasn’t a joke. It is a serious product you can now buy in stores, but it probably shouldn’t be.
What Is a “Smart Fridge”?
A “smart fridge” looks like a normal fridge with a tablet glued to the front of it. The idea of a smart fridge is kind of cool, in a way. Playing music, displaying the weather, showing a calendar, functioning as a digital whiteboard, and putting together a shopping list are all activities that might make sense on a fridge. Some other features, like mirroring your TV’s display on your fridge or viewing photos of its contents from your smartphone, make less sense to some–but none of this really matters.
A true “smart fridge” in the future might monitor itself to provide a live-updated list of the contents, track expiration, and maybe order more groceries when you’re running out. It might more intelligently adjust cooling levels depending on what you have in the fridge. Today’s smart fridges don’t do any of this, although the tablet does provide an app you can use to manually track your groceries and order more.
Problem One: You’ll Stop Getting Updates and the Software Will Fall Apart
Even if you think smart fridge features sound great, there’s one big problem: You have no guarantee the fridge will still be getting updates in a few years, or even a year from now.
A lot of “smart” devices, including smart TVs, have a similar problem. You could buy the fridge, use it happily for a year, after which its apps get ignored by the manufacturer and become unable to connect to all the web services they depend on. Your smart fridge may gradually just become dumb.
This isn’t just a theory. This Google Answers thread catalogs a case of this problem that’s already happened. People purchased a Samsung smart fridge back in 2012 and, by 2014, they could no longer connect to Google Calendar on their fridge. Google announced a new way to connect to Google Calendar, but Samsung never bothered updating the fridge. After two years, that fridge was apparently out of date and “no longer supported”. Over a year later, after a lot of customers complained, it looks like Samsung did issue an update. But during the previous period, Samsung representatives merely offered helpful advice like “Have you tried rebooting your refrigerator?”. The above screenshot is taken from that thread.
The $6000 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, included applications on the fridge may stop working as they don’t see updates. Heck, these manufacturers can barely keep their phones up to date after a few years–it’s hard to imagine they’ll put more work into a fridge.
Even in a best case scenario with excellent support, it’s hard to imagine the Family Hub refrigerator still functioning well in five or ten years. Ideally, you’d keep your refrigerator much longer than that.
Problem Two: You’ll Stop Getting Updates and Your Fridge Will Be Vulnerable
Updates aren’t just about functionality–they’re about security, too. We’ve already seen that manufacturers are bad at securing many of these smart devices, and even smart TVs can be compromised.
If your fridge doesn’t reliably receive security updates, or stops getting them entirely, it’s possible your fridge could be compromised and become infected with malware. This could happen very easily–when you use an outdated web browser app on the fridge and visit a compromised or malicious website, it could infect your fridge.
A fridge infection could be a serious problem. If you access services like your email and calendar on the fridge–that’s the point, after all–an attacker could gain access to your email and use that to access other accounts. Your fridge could also just become part of a botnet used to attack and infect others.
Problem Three: You Can Get a Professional Quality Fridge for the Same Price
When it comes down to it, the best argument against smart fridges is the cost. Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator costs $6000, which is a lot of money. You can buy a solid fridge for $500, or a high quality one for about $1000–certainly less than $2000. And those will last a lot longer than the three or so years your smart fridge will function fully for.
But let’s say money is no object, and you want the best fridge you can possibly buy. For that much money, you can get a high-end, commercial-quality fridge from a manufacturer like Sub-Zero. That will last a lot longer and be a better fridge than a $6000 smart fridge. If you’re looking for a high-end luxury appliance, buy a professional-quality fridge instead of a smart fridge.
All the Above Problems Are Solved With a Tablet
Let’s say you really want Google Calendar and recipe apps and other features on your fridge. That’s fine. But you can get all these features by sticking a tablet to your fridge. Mount an iPad–or even an Android or Windows tablet–on your fridge, and you’ll have a homemade smart fridge with better software. You won’t have cameras inside your fridge that let you view photos of your fridge’s contents, but unless you’re willing to pay $6000 to have that one feature for a year or two, you may just have to live without it for awhile.
Mounting a tablet can be quick and simple. Put an iPad or Android tablet in a case, attach velcro or 3M Command strips to that case, and stick it to your fridge. That should work just fine. You could also just get a dedicated fridge mount.
You could even take the tablet off your fridge if you want to sit at your table and read something or have a recipe nearby. It’s more flexible than a smart fridge.
An iPad or Android tablet will have much more available apps than a smart fridge, and iPads in particular will receive updates for years longer than you could expect a smart fridge to receive updates for. When your tablet gets old, you can just get a new tablet for your existing fridge rather than discarding your entire refrigerator and buying another one for $6000.
Smart fridges might be cool one day, but we’re just not sold on them yet. Paying thousands of dollars extra for a worse tablet than an iPad just doesn’t make any sense. If the smart features didn’t cost thousands of dollars extra, the drawbacks might be easier to stomach.