If you own a microwave and use Wi-Fi, you’re probably aware that these two things don’t mesh well (pun intended). The impact of running a microwave while using Wi-Fi tends to vary depending on how much EM your microwave leaks and which frequencies your Wi-Fi network is using. If you’re on a 5GHz network, you may not see much interference, but a 2.4GHz system may choke and die when you cook a burrito, depending on the position of your hardware and the layout of your house. Microwaves and Wi-Fi, in other words, are not two things you would ordinarily combine.
Appliance manufacturers have been trying to find use cases for IoT-enabled refrigerators, toasters, and laundry machines for years, leading to an endless series of jokes about trying to surf the internet on a refrigerator. After years of attempting to sell consumers on the idea of an automatic fridge that can monitor individual zones of temperature and re-order frozen yams after you hate-eat the last bag to avoid food waste, GE has opted for a more straightforward approach: Stick Netflix on it. Seriously: The new Kitchen Hub is a 27-inch, Wi-Fi-enabled microwave with Netflix.
Before we dive into this, I need to be clear about which GE product we’re discussing. GE has announced a new version of its Kitchen Hub. This version integrates a microwave and offers features like AI-assisted computer vision to check when a dish has finished cooking. This product will not be available until late 2020. It can also function as a hub for Z-Wave-enabled devices and for GE’s smart appliance products.
Right now, if you visit GE’s website, the product you’ll see is an earlier version of the Kitchen Hub that’s actually a hood vent, not a microwave. It lacks the internal camera and AI computer vision, for obvious reasons, and isn’t Z-Wave compatible. Apart from that, it appears to have the same set of features. The hood vent Kitchen Hub runs Android 8.0, but I haven’t found anything on what the microwave Kitchen Hub will use. The hood vent is $1,200, so it’s safe to assume the new microwave will sell at or above that price point.
The New Kitchen Hub includes the Flavorly recipe app powered by SideChef. This shouldn’t be confused with Flavourly, the craft beer delivery service cum curation app. It also shouldn’t be confused with Flavory.com, which bills itself as “an online food magazine chronicling culinary stories of interest to foodies of the Central New York area,” and hasn’t been updated since 2011. None of this has anything to do with the microwave, strictly speaking, but as a western New York resident, I’m not surprised that a blog dedicated to the culinary delights of Syracuse has been dead for the past nine years. No offense to the founder, who self-identified as a magazine journalism student. That particular career path is its own punishment these days.
Let’s get back to the 27-inch widescreen microwave. The hood vent’s aspect ratio is technically 1.80, not the 1.77 of 16:9. We have no details on the microwave. Imagine the exciting discussions we can all have in the future regarding new opportunities in microwave aspect ratios as they relate to film content! Here’s GE:
The next-gen Kitchen Hub from GE Appliances is a 27-inch smart touch screen, 1.9 cubic foot microwave and ventilation combo designed to easily fit in the space above the range. Consumers can use cameras to interact with friends and family, snap and share their culinary masterpieces, and even determine when their meals are done while viewing the inside of the oven from their couch. And if cooking isn’t entertaining enough, the Kitchen Hub Micro provides access to popular apps, such as Netflix and Spotify. The addition of the microwave into the next gen Kitchen Hub allows the user a full-service kitchen experience.
This quote is the only time in the entire document where GE refers to the “Kitchen Hub Micro.” It’s referred to as the “next gen Kitchen Hub” 12x in the same press release, including in a quote by the director of the SmartHome appliance division by GE. The name of the product may be “Kitchen Hub Micro.” Unless it isn’t. Also, GE’s PR department couldn’t be bothered to actually upload a photograph of what the new appliance looks like. They re-used the photo from the 2018 launch instead. The photo below is from Cnet:
This is also the first time I’ve heard the term “full-service kitchen experience” used to describe an appliance with Netflix, Spotify, integrated cameras, and photo sharing. I’ve clearly missed some back issues of Panopticon Quarterly, not to mention Bon Appétit.
There appears to be virtually zero technical information available on the current or next-gen Kitchen Hub as relates to their technical specifications or Android capabilities. One of the product reviews on GE’s website for the original Kitchen Hub notes that the unit doesn’t ship with any kind of user manual that covers these functions. Both Kitchen Hubs are touchscreen-enabled and have an integrated speaker, but there’s no mention of Bluetooth support. That’s a meaningful feature omission in a situation like this. If you’ve spent any time in a kitchen, particularly a “full-service kitchen experience” sort of kitchen, you’re aware that kitchens can be rather loud. Dishwashers, microwaves, certain types of food prep, and running water all make their own contributions to ambient noise. Bluetooth integration isn’t a ridiculous feature to want in a device intended to operate in what is likely the loudest room of the house when in full use.
I actually can see a use for an appliance like this; it’s just not a happy one. If your life keeps you trapped in a kitchen to the point that you can’t ever get a moment to watch a movie or TV show, having a TV in the kitchen might be nice. This hardware seems purpose-built for stressed homemakers of considerable means who never get to leave the kitchen and people who seek cooking validation via social media. I can’t even tell if those are overlapping niches or not.
We don’t have any information on what kind of Wi-Fi solution the new Kitchen Hub will use. There seem to be three options here: It’s a dual-band solution that switches to 5GHz mode to use Wi-Fi while the microwave is running, the unit is shielded well enough internally to prevent interference with a Wi-Fi chip installed in the same enclosure, or the microwave can’t stream while it’s also cooking food. GE hasn’t disclosed anything on the Wi-Fi at this time.
Finally, the “next gen Kitchen Hub Micro” is a 1.9-cubic-foot microwave. The least expensive 1.9-cubic-foot microwave available on Bestbuy.com is a $250 Samsung model. I’m not claiming that’s the cheapest 1.9-cubic-foot microwave around, but it gives you some frame of reference for what a microwave of that size costs if you take it off the shelf. Is Netflix and camera integration worth $950? Certainly not to me. But the fact that the hardware is getting a second generation implies that at least somebody bought the first one.
The feature image for this story is the older Kitchen Hub, not the new “next gen Kitchen Hub.” ET regrets the fact that GE PR deliberately provided an inaccurate picture of their own product without disclosing this fact.
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