On a recent Saturday night, German Salazar made chicken tacos for his friends while they chatted with him in his kitchen. Occasionally, he interrupted the conversation to talk to another friend: Google.
Salazar was speaking to Google Home, the artificially intelligent speaker living on his kitchen counter. “Hey Google, set a timer for 20 minutes,” he said, to activate a countdown for when the chicken would be cooked and ready for shredding.
At first, Salazar’s friends snickered when he talked to the speaker. But after a few bottles of wine, everyone began grilling Google Home with questions and requests: “How much did Jamie Lee Curtis make in ‘True Lies’?” and “Tell me a joke.”
For many people, the kitchen is the center of the home and a locus for interactions that go beyond preparing and eating food. Now tech companies and appliance makers, aiming to deepen their relationships with customers, are increasingly targeting the room that is synonymous with togetherness.
Household brands like Whirlpool, Samsung and Bosch are racing against tech behemoths like Google and Amazon to dominate the kitchen with internet-connected appliances and cooking gadgets that include refrigerators embedded with touch screens, smart dishwashers and connected countertop screens with artificially intelligent assistants that react to spoken commands.
Yet the “smart kitchen” remains a tough sell. With the kitchen often a hub for families and friends, habits there can be hard to change. And many people see the kitchen and mealtimes as a haven from their otherwise always-connected lifestyle. Only 5 percent of U.S. households own smart appliances today, up from 3 percent in 2014, according to the research firm Parks Associates.
“Will we see a reinvention of the kitchen like we saw in the living room?” said Michael Wolf, a tech analyst who hosts a podcast and a conference about the smart kitchen. “I don’t think it will happen overnight. There’s going to be a lot of skepticism.”
Apart from their fears of disrupting the rhythms and patterns in the heart of the home, people may be hesitant to incorporate smart devices into their kitchens because of the costs of maintaining such appliances, which are often difficult to repair and use expensive components like touch screens. They also may worry about longevity: A touch-screen refrigerator may look modern today, but who knows how dated it may appear in five years?
And with many smart kitchen appliances incorporating internet connections, cameras or microphones, digital privacy has become a concern.