Homes: The pros and cons of Wi-Fi appliances

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Homes: The pros and cons of Wi-Fi appliances
Dacor, Miele and Monogram now make ovens that have a tablet screen loaded with interactive recipes. (Courtesy photo)
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By Rory Callaghan

Smart appliances allow us to use apps to monitor the machines in our homes, their contents and their operations remotely, and they are becoming ubiquitous even among modestly priced product lines. Would you want one or avoid it?

There really are no cons to having a Wi-Fi connected machine because, at the very least, it will receive firmware updates in the background that you don’t need to know about. And soon we won’t be able to avoid Wi-Fi connected appliances because everything will be on your Wi-Fi network. Should your appliance suffer a digital breakdown, your manufacturer may be able to fix it remotely. That’s happening already in some lines.

Safety concerns were what held back remote cooking for years, but that hurdle has been cleared by many makers. For example, General Electric has a range that requires you put it in “remote enable” mode before you leave the house. I suspect they did that to discourage users from making snap decisions to preheat the oven on the drive home and then forgetting they had turned it on. They made it so only people who plan ahead could use this feature. And if, while in remote mode, someone in the house attempts to use the oven, it will not operate. The person with the app on their phone remains in control of the range.

The term “smart appliance” specifically means any appliance that can be interacted with using an app on a phone or tablet. There are many appliances that have touchscreens and internal intelligence that make them a breeze to use but are not technically “smart,” according to industry lingo.

Dacor, Miele, and Monogram make ovens that all but cook the food for you. They have a tablet screen loaded with interactive recipes that take you through the steps for cooking a perfect meal. You must take the time to input the type of food, weight, thickness, if cooking steak, and so on. But it works quickly and cooks perfectly. Many of these ovens also allow home cooks to customize their onboard recipes.

For example: You can call out for specific instructions for the standard roasted chicken recipe that you’ve re-named “Grandma’s chicken,” so that the ovens knows to begin at 475 degrees for 10 minutes, then shift to 325 degrees for an hour and then 140 degrees until you manually turn it off. It’s difficult to believe that doesn’t qualify as “smart” in the industry.

Demand for Wi-Fi skews by age, understandably. Many in the tech industry, regardless of age, are attracted to these conveniences, some of which are gimmicky, but many of which are very useful and should be considered.

For older folks who are more unfamiliar with the functions of their phone, some options will go unused. From them I hear regarding Wi-Fi, “I’ll never use it.”

Younger people with little cooking skill find it indispensable. My 23-year-old colleague told me, “I don’t know anything about cooking. But I download recipes to my app, even adjusting for portion quantity. It tells me what rack to set it on, I put it in the oven, and it comes out perfect.”

Maybe he’ll never really learn to cook, but does it matter? In 20 years, he’ll be in the back seat of his autopilot flying car while roasting a tenderloin and doing a load of laundry remotely.

Washers and dryers can be operated remotely too. Let’s say I’m headed home, and I remember the shirt I want to put on has been in the dryer since morning, and now it’s wrinkled. I can tumble refresh it in a few minutes without having to go to the laundry room.

Refrigerators are sometimes equipped with internal cameras so you can get a look at your contents to see if you need something while you’re passing the grocery store. That sounds like a great idea. Rangehoods are what exhaust smoke and odors from our home while cooking. Unfortunately, many people forget to turn them on until they’ve created smoke and odors. Some brands have hoods and microwaves that connect to the range, and the hood turns on when the burner is on.

A few dishwashers will accept a large quantity of detergent that is refilled periodically, rather than adding it at each washing. Some can connect to your purchasing subscription service and order the detergent for you when it senses that you’re getting low.

No maker has yet created the oven so smart that it can sense the weight or type of food you’re preparing and cook it perfectly without you having to do anything. That will happen one day.

Meanwhile, these machines come close, and can be augmented with a great recipe app. The app doesn’t connect to the machines, but it works to keep track of recipes and facilitate cooking. One of our appliance specialists uses cheftap.com, which allows you to download recipes with accompanying shopping lists and adjusted for portion size and quantity. For both skilled and aspiring cooks, this is extremely useful and just another example of how technology and our appliances can help make our kitchen experience even better.

The writer is kitchen planning director at M&M Appliance & Cabinets on South Washington Street. Contact Rory Callaghan at [email protected].

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