It's 2007... so where are my Internet Appliances?

I was reminiscing with some friends recently about the 3com Audrey which I used to have and hacked, and was thinking where is all the internet enabled appliances predicted back in the heady dot-com days? Is there even a descendent of the Audrey in existence today?

I remember these being pretty pricey back in the day, and one of the main uses being a central point for multiple palm users which may not have been as popular as 3com predicted. However, certainly there are many more pda/phone/electronic organizer users now-adays, than there were then, especially 2-pda families.

I would think that these types of devices would be much cheaper to manufacture now, and with the much wider use of broadband and wifi in more households, that there would be more demand for something like this. Closest I’ve seen to something like this is a LG refrigerator that has a basic calendar in it, but there’s no sync ability or web / connectivity functionality.

Has anyone seen anything recently like this made, or is this something that you think that the public is just not interested in?

Well, what do YOU want to do?

There is zero demand for internet-enabled appliances. All of the proposals I’ve heard of have been imbecilic and unworkable - refrigerators that order food for you, etc.
These ideas are developed by engineers who probably don’t even know what one does with a stove, let alone use it (and I’m an engineer, so I know).
When there’s a real problem to be solved, then you’ll see these appliances developed, until then it’s just another worthless feature designed to raise the price.

They’re all being delivered in your new flying car.

What he said. ^

When I was working in Japan, there was a big push to create Ubiquitous Computing, which meant home appliances that are all networked and do magical nifty things. Only problem being, no one could figure out any magical nifty things much beyond something like you open the door to your house, and the lights automatically come on! Beyond that was things like, when one of your appliances breaks, it sends an email to the manufacturer giving a diagnostic.

Now I will admit that creating protocols and methods for appliances to converse with each other and the internet is something that needs to happen before anything useful can happen, but even once that’s been settled, I think it will still be some time before someone hits on “the idea” of what this actually enables us to do that is useful.

Hey, we were just talking about our Audrey the other day. Sweet industrial design, piece of crap for actually using. We got ours on deep, deep discount mostly to play with.

It came up in the context of the iPhone which appears to be ready to do everything for my husband short of pressing his suits. Blah, do you really need a satellite photo of the house of every one of your address book contacts? But that’s not really extending past a melange of the functionality of blackberries, phones, iPods etcetera.

Internet appliances (and tablets) kind of got cut off at the knees by super-cheap laptops.

So, we don’t have those, but we do have $500 laptops, and that’s not bad.

Well, how do you propose to target the missiles, eh? Honestly, now.

Yeah, I never liked the idea of “internet appliances”. They’re a novelty more than practical, at least to me. Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarially mean it’s a good idea. And I always wondered what would happen if your internet fridge got a virus and ordered 15 crates of Captain Crunch or something.

Except Cheney of course.

Who the hell names an appliance Audrey?
Didn’t they see Little Shop of Horrors? Doesn’t the name conjure up images of the device saying relentlessly “Feed Me!” Whatever it wants to be fed, that can’t be good. Especially if it wants to be fed Money.

Seriously, I never heard of this, so its sinkinh makes hardly a ripple. Except for the name.

That explains it! :smack:
crunch crunch crunch

OK, I’ll do it.

There are two things being discussed here.

One is the idea of kitchen appliances that connect to the internet so they can talk to each other. What they would say to each other is not clear. It would be one thing if the freezer could move those hot pockets to the microwave by itself, and then tell the microwave to turn on, so you could have hot pockets the minute you walked in the door. But the trouble is that a person still has dig the hot pockets out of the freezer and put them in the microwave, so the freezer telling the microwave that hot pockets were removed is useless. Maybe a better idea is to equip the microwave with a supermarket style barcode scanner, so you could just bleep the package of hot pockets and stick it in the microwave, and the barcode would tell the microwave the time and settings to prepare the hot pockets. But still, what useful information can your refrigerator tell your stove, or your stove tell your dishwasher?

The other is the idea of having a very very cheap computer with no hard drive that connects to the internet, so you can web surf, order stuff, check your email, and so on. And applications would all be web applications, like Google is finally coming out with. Anything you wanted to save would be uploaded somewhere…to another computer on your network, or a server somewhere. And people like your Mom would buy this instead of an expensive, complicated computer. It would essentially be a computer that only did AOL. Except why bother not including a hard drive, hard drives aren’t that expensive, and low end computers suitable for light internet browsing, email, looking at digital photos, and composing an occasional resume are dirt cheap. So where’s the market for a neutered computer?

I can only think of one reason for some select appliances to talk to one another, and that’s to set the time. It would be nice if I didn’t have to walk around the house setting the time on the microwave, oven, VCR, clock radios, etc., every time the time changed or I had a power outage. Now if someone made these appliances with a very simple wireless network card and some sort of time-setting protocol, and if it didn’t add more than a few dollars in price to the appliance, then maybe you’d have something.

Aside from that one very limited case, I can’t think of any other reason for “network enabled” appliances. As everyone has stated, the whole “fridge that orders food for you” idea is really awkward and unworkable.

What does all this portend for the Chumby?

The only internet ready appliance that I’ve seen that I thought was actually sort of worth a damn is the internet-capable stove/refrigeration unit sold by TMIO. I saw this on a few TV shows in the past year. Basically allows you to put an uncooked dish in the oven in the morning, and it’ll keep it refrigerated until later in the day when it will automatically cook it. You can either program the time at the stove, or access it via telephone or internet to change the start and cooking times. I thought that was a pretty good idea. Set something in there for dinner, but if you get held up be able to have it start later, then maybe set itself to “warming” after the dish is done. Still, not something that I rushed out to get when putting in the new kitchen.

I’ve often thought that some sort of system with RFID tags that could somehow track the shelf life of refrigerated food and tell you when something’s likely gone bad.

As in, your jar of mayonnaise has a RFID tag that can tell when it was first opened, and the fridge would track that, and periodically, it would send you an email or something telling you all the potential science-fair projects you might have in your fridge, based on either the date set at the factory, or whenever it was first opened, for stuff that has an indefinite shelf life unopened.

That, or some kind of ability to inventory your fridge. I’d want it integrated with my pantry, etc…

I’m imagining mostly factory-applied RFID tags, with the possible exception of fresh produce and meats, which you could either manually enter, or get some pre-made rfid stickers to put on them. That way, the manual labor of tagging stuff would hopefully be minimized.

It would be cool to be able to look up a recipe on the internet, bounce it against my kitchen inventory, and have a shopping list prepared. (granted, it probably wouldn’t have any idea how much mayonnaise is in the jar)

I don’t know how much demand there is for it; or at least how many people would be willing to pay extra for that capability.

My appliances can remain dumb as rocks for all I care. I just need one robot that knows how to use them all.

What about the $80 million Kerbango Internet Radio right before Audrey? Now that was a waste of cash.

Anyway, I think we have a few internet appliances: PVRs/TiVos fit the definition well. A bit less popular are home MP3 players like Slim Devices Squeezebox. And finally, you can still pay a fortunate for a digital picture frame.

My rule of thumb is that anything that has all of the components of a computer will cost about as much to manufacture as a computer. And at that point, why not buy a computer? As SmackFu said, you can get a laptop for $500. Is it worth spending $400 on an Audrey or digital picture frame?

I worked on a wireless MP3 player. It was a cool product, built-in speakers, color touch-screen, wireless and wired access. But we couldn’t get the bill-of-materials anywhere reasonable. A fancy, full-color box was going to cost $20 in small of 1000. Unless you can forecast to build millions, you can’t make them cheaply enough. So in the end, what would a customer prefer: a wireless MP3 player or a laptop that can play MP3s wirelessly?