High tech or good looks? (A kind reader has provided a link that should get you around the Journal's pay wall.). It's a lengthy article, naturally, because of the crucial information it imparts, but here are snippets:
Appliance makers are grappling with how much technology to add to the anchor of the kitchen. They have the know-how to make the refrigerator do everything from play music to order groceries. But marketers are divided over a fundamental question of what we want.
Established luxury companies like Sub-Zero Group Inc. and BSH Home Appliances’ Thermador brand are chasing new engineering feats to better hide the refrigerator behind cabinetry. Meanwhile upstarts, including new models from LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung Group, are turning the refrigerator into a giant computer screen that can play television and display shopping lists, photos and weather reports.
Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator, which sells for around $6,000, has a computer touch screen that covers most of one door. A water dispenser takes up much of the other. The refrigerator streams music, shows television shows by connecting with Samsung TVs, syncs family members’ calendars, displays photos and lets users post notes on the refrigerator screen from remote locations. Three built-in cameras take a photo every time the refrigerator’s doors close. The photos can be accessed via phone, allowing users to remotely see what’s inside—and what’s missing, like if the chocolate cake has been eaten up.
LG Electronics’ InstaView refrigerator door includes a window so users can peek inside after tapping twice on the tinted glass panel. A door-in-door design lets consumers access some shelves without opening the entire refrigerator. The innovations in the fridge, which sells for $4,300 to $8,500, are meant to add convenience and preserve cold air amid Americans’ propensity for perusing: A U.S. household of four people opens the refrigerator about 15 to 20 times a day, according to LG research. “People spend 10.4 hours a year just staring into an open refrigerator,” says LG’s Mr. VanderWaal.
Later this year, LG plans to roll out a “smart” version of its InstaView refrigerator that includes a touch screen, compatibility with Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa and an internal panoramic camera that lets users remotely view photos of their fridge’s contents.
Mr. [Ira] Kantor says his appliance browsing included new refrigerators with computer screens and interior cameras, but he wasn’t tempted. “I’m a technology guy as a profession, but I think some of this is over the top,” he says. “If you can’t open your fridge once in a while to figure out what you need, I don’t know what you do.”
Thermador later this year plans to introduce Open Door Assist, which lets users open a refrigerator door by pushing it, rather than pulling a handle. “You don’t even know it’s a refrigerator,” says Beatriz Sandoval, director of brand marketing for Thermador. “We’re going to mask everything--- our clients have made it loud and clear that they don’t even want water and ice on the exterior.”
Voice recognition is in development at Sub-Zero, but so far the luxury appliance company has dodged several other visible gadgets. “We’re really struggling to find something that’s of real value versus, I’ll say, gimmicky,” says Paul Sikir, vice president of design engineering for Sub-Zero.
In a recent focus group of current Sub-Zero refrigerator owners, “they say, ‘I’m buying the refrigerator to last 20 years, how is the technology going to last 20 years?,’” Mr. Sikir says. “They get a little frightened of that.”
I'd join in that focus group's concern about obsolescence (anyone here remember projection TV "theaters" in home basements?) but it's not that much of a worry here in Greenwich, where homes are traded every couple of years or so, because the first thing new owners do is rip out the existing $500,000 kitchens and install new ones, "to make it our own".
In most of the rest of the country, I'd be wary. Of course, this is coming from someone who still refers to refrigerators as "ice boxes", so your opinion may differ.