The future is now, and frankly, it's fucking ridiculous. If you need proof of the technological apocalypse that's descended upon us, look no further than the modern kitchen.
Push aside the blender, the coffee maker, and the toaster oven; make room for the connected refrigerator, the cold-press juicer, and the Wi-Fi tea kettle.
"Companies are innovating products that don't need to be innovated," said Kevin Masse, vice president of global community engagement at cooking site The Feed Feed. "Maybe they want to sell more, or get people to upgrade to buy the new ones, so they're adding all sorts of bells and whistles."
Superfluous kitchen gadgets are not new, as anyone who has browsed through Williams-Sonoma knows. Care for the all-new $599 Excalibur food dehydrator, which allows you to make trail mix in the privacy of your own home? How about a “machine that lets you burrow a hole through a banana so you can pump it full of bespoke filling,” which the the Guardian deemed “an insult to God”?
But the amount of funding these absurd devices are attracting is setting new records, buoyed by crowdfunding websites and the mania (cooking and otherwise) infecting Silicon Valley.
"Investors continue to pile into consumer hardware," according a report by CB Insights, a market research firm that specializes in venture capital and startups. "Part of the reason they do so is that investors and crowdfunding sites keep putting cash in their pockets. Entrepreneurs continue to raise funds through Kickstarter or the early-stage markets based on their aspirations to build a future consumer hardware empire."
In 2016, there was a record number of first-time financings of consumer hardware products: 456. "Unless you're a really good home cook, it's hard to wade through that sea of Facebook ads and catalogues," said Masse. "It's just a lot to digest."
Yet as the cautionary tale of Juicero shows, the odds are stacked against the newbies. Juicero, as some may recall, was Silicon Valley's infamous $700 Wi-Fi-enabled juicer that was exposed in April for being no more than an over-engineered doodad for squeezing liquid out of Juicero pouches (which themselves cost $4 to $10 each). It touted its mission as "reinventing the farm-to-glass supply chain" but, in truth, the sleek device performed a task that users could just as easily have done with their bare hands. Investors had poured about $120 million into Juicero, an amount that approaches the National Institutes of Health’s budget for ovarian cancer research last year.
There are signs that all this madness won't go on infinitely. In October, Teforia, a startup that raised $17 million for a $1,000 tea infuser that communicates with your smartphone, ceased operations. "The reality of our business is that it would take a lot more financing and time to educate the market, and we simply couldn’t raise the funds required in what is a very difficult time for hardware companies in the smart kitchen space," CEO Allen Han said in a public note announcing the decision.
The intrinsic challenge for these startups is that cooking, at its core, is a pleasurably low-tech undertaking. You need ingredients, tools to prep the ingredients, and, in most cases, a source of heat. People made damn good food before the iPhone was invented. And yet, some segment of product developers and their investors would like you to believe that adding Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and screens will revolutionize how it's done — so far, it looks like they've failed.
Unless, of course, there turns out to be mass demand for things like these:
This Egg Tray That Tracks How Many Eggs You Have Left And Syncs With Your Phone Because You Can't Count To 14 Yourself
It "syncs with your smartphone to tell you how many eggs you've got at home" and an LED light indicates the oldest egg, solving a "problem" that you didn't even know existed.
The Trash Can Accessory That Scans Your Garbage
Apparently, the future of household trash can be very complicated. The device scans the barcodes on your garbage as you're throwing things away to create a grocery list that you can fulfill via Amazon Dash, giving the robots total control of your shopping.
This Connected Scale That Measures Ingredients By Weight, Forcing You To Rethink Every Recipe You've Ever Used
Sure, yes, precision, and hardcore bakers say a scale is a game-changer. (There are other versions of this scale too.) But honestly, when it comes to the average person making dinner after work, who is going to measure out salt in ounces? Unless you can rethink your own recipes in weight terms, as Wired points out, you're "beholden to the recipes that Drop offers."
This Judgy-Ass Fork That Will Give You A Massive Regret After Every Meal
This fork "alerts you with the help of indicator lights and gentle vibrations when you are eating too fast." Piss off, fork! It's chow time.
This Wi-Fi Tea Kettle That You Can Control Remotely With Your Phone, But Only After You Go Fill It With Water
Try as you may, there's no escaping that awkward contact with your tea kettle.
This "Smart Microgarden," aka Digital-Era Chia Pet
Remember the days when all a humble plant needed was light and water? Well, these plants want their owners to "control environmental and plant sensors, camera, and high-efficiency LED lighting." Classic helicopter planting.
This Fridge That Wants To Be A Smartphone, Ignoring The Glaring Fact That We All Already Have Smartphones
You could shop from your fridge, play music from your fridge, create a grocery list on your fridge... It's like we were so preoccupied with whether or not we could, that we didn't stop to think if we should.
This App Where You Theoretically Reduce Food Waste By Entering What's In Your Fridge And The Expiration Dates
The fatal flaw, reviewers said: It doesn't let you enter the quantity of any items, which makes it pretty hard for the app to track what you have in the fridge.
This Meat Thermometer That Literally Doesn't Display The Temperature Without Your Smartphone
The only thing worse than not knowing if your food is overcooked is having to frantically thumb through your smartphone to find out. "I do not like the idea of having to carry my device everywhere with me," one reviewer wrote on Amazon. "I think if the unit itself had the ability to display the temperature as well it would [have] made this gadget so much better."
This Machine That Dispenses Ingredients Only After You Go Through The Trouble Of Pouring Everything Into Custom Containers That Work With The Machine
So. Very. Fussy.