Friday, January 7, 2011

Cool Gadgets

When I first heard about the LG refrigerator with a built-in LCD TV, I was pretty skeptical.  It seemed like the height of American laziness and self-indulgence ... the kind that's ridiculed in the movie WALL-E.  But after further consideration, I think appliance makers are missing some real opportunities here.

After all, the refrigerator has long been pivotal in two important household functions ... food storage and communication.  The large metal surfaces of the refrigerator have always provided an ideal spot for posting dentist appointment reminders, cub scout calendars, postcards from Aunt Mary, and, of course, children's artwork.  Everyone in the house opens the fridge every day, so important messages can be reliably conveyed.

Moreover, the fridge is a pretty large, imposing appliance, central in most homes.  It gets people's attention.  It has a flat top for storing rarely used serving trays and keeping the cookie jar out of reach, and at least one large exposed surface that's maybe 12 or 13 square feet or more.  Of course, the bottom foot is too far from eye level to serve as anything but a place for the cats to rub their cheeks.

Yet, despite the LG TV, and some boring energy conservation stuff, the refrigerator has remained "uncool" as an appliance ... just a big box in the kitchen.  I'd like to see some more innovative uses.

For example, what about a built-in phone?  With cameras?  Most people have a phone near the fridge anyway.  Wouldn't it be great to chat with your mom while rummaging through the leftovers?

Or how about, in addition to the TV, a screen for surfing the Internet?  You can look up the nutritional information on the leftover Kung-pao Chicken you're about to down, or browse for recipes that combine cauliflower, beets and one piece of steak pizzaiola.

An audio system would be good.  With your head in the fridge, you'd get great acoustics!  What a way to cool off on a hot night.

The refrigerator is probably also the most essential appliance in the house.  You can live without a dishwasher, or washing machine and dryer.  Even without a range or microwave.  Ok, maybe not without a microwave.  But how about combining the microwave and refrigerator into one appliance?  You could program it to thaw and cook the roast while you're out.  And if you forget to program it, just use that built-in phone to call the fridge with instructions.

The Consumer Electronics Show is going on right now in Las Vegas, but it's all predictable stuff like 3D TVs and tablet computers.  But what do you think all the conference attendees would want in their hotel rooms when they get the midnight munchies?  An iPad?

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