Maybe you’ve walked into an electronics or home improvement store recently and seen what looks like a flat screen TV built into the door of a fridge. On the one hand, you might think “wow that’s pretty cool,” but on the other, you’re probably asking “why does my fridge need a screen?” 

One possible use case comes courtesy of 15-year-old Dorothy, who used her family’s smart fridge to tweet when her phone had been confiscated. 

 

 

In all seriousness, the smart fridge is an interesting piece of technology that may be early, but it has a lot of promise. Here’s our no-nonsense guide to help you understand what a smart fridge is, what it can do, and why you may or may not want to buy one. 

What is a Smart Fridge?

In the most basic terms, a smart fridge is just a fridge that can connect to the internet over Wi-Fi. This allows you to control and monitor your fridge remotely, and with your voice using smart assistants. They usually have a touchscreen display built into the door that replaces any physical buttons and switches and operates much like a mobile device — there’s a user interface and an operating system that allows you to do things like access the internet or write down notes like you would on your tablet or smartphone. 

What Can a Smart Fridge Do?

As with any smart home device, an internet connection opens the door for a lot of added functionality. Here are some examples of how you can use a smart fridge. 

  • Adjust the temperature inside different compartments from your phone.
  • Create shopping lists on the front display that you can send to your smartphone.
  • Look up recipes and refer to them as you cook.
  • See what’s inside your fridge from anywhere using cameras built into the appliance.
  • Get alerted if the temperature rises or drops above or below expected levels.
  • Turn the ice maker on and off from your phone.
  • Open the doors with just a tap or a wave, much like an automatic paper towel dispenser.
  • Use an integrated voice assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to order groceries as you check your stock.
  • Get notified of issues with your fridge, like a filter that needs to be replaced.

The refrigerator is where we place reminders for family members, pictures of loved ones and school and activity calendars. In short, the refrigerator is where we track our lives. Here are a few ways you can use a smart fridge as a family hub:

  • Use the calendar to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Display recent pictures.
  • Leave personal notes — from homework to honey-do lists.

Consider Longevity Before Buying a Smart Fridge

According to Consumer Reports, the expected lifespan of a refrigerator is between nine and 13 years. While new refrigerator models are released each year, few of us will go out and buy a new one if the one we already have works just fine. The same is not true of technology like tablets and smartphones, where the innovation cycle moves more quickly and newer models of the same device can be leaps and bounds better or more functional than previous generations. 

The challenge with spending thousands of dollars on a smart fridge is that the “smart” part of the fridge (the computer, the software, the user-interface) will be outdated within a few years, while the refrigerator itself remains functional for a decade or more.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to use a decade old piece of technology, consider that Apple’s iOS 3, released in 2009, introduced the ability to copy/paste for the first time, and it still didn’t allow you to have more than one app open at a time. This wasn’t a big deal in 2009, but try using it in 2019. 

The Future of Smart Fridges

Companies are constantly working to integrate appliances with our lifestyles, aiming for seamless, constant connection between work, home, health, fitness, relaxation, and travel. Smart fridges are certainly here to stay, but how we use them is likely to evolve over time.  

Imagine a future where fitness tracking devices integrate with your smart fridge and help you make smart choices about what to eat depending on your level of activity for the day, even creating recipes and menu items based on what’s available. Your fridge may even use artificial intelligence to learn what you like to eat and create grocery lists automatically, or order your groceries for you when you’re running low on your favorites.

In the future, smart fridges could be an essential kitchen fixture that help us manage our nutritional needs, grocery shopping, and meal-planning, but for now we’re still in the early days.