The kitchen has always been the center of the home – the place
where families gather to eat, talk about their days and work on projects. But
some worry that technology may threaten that convergence, dispersing family
members within the home by sending Mom and Dad to a home office to do work or
emails and the kids to their rooms to do homework and instant message their
New research from Internet Home Alliance, a cross-industry network of leading
companies advancing the connected home market, debunks that myth. According to
the results of the Alliance’s Mealtime Pilot, an eight-month, real-world test of
a connected kitchen solution led by Alliance members Whirlpool, Hewlett Packard,
IBM, Icebox, Peapod by Stop & Shop and Sears, Roebuck & Co., having
broadband Internet access in the kitchen has the effect of bringing family
members together and actually increasing
the amount and quality of time they spend with one
According to the study, which was conducted to determine the
degree to which consumers are ready to adopt and use Internet-enabled devices in
the kitchen, having Internet access and media entertainment features in the
kitchen made being in the kitchen more enjoyable, drawing family members into
the kitchen to spend more quality time together. It also enabled parents to
better supervise their children’s Internet activities, a key concern among
today’s parents, and to entice family members into lending a hand in preparing
Said one Mealtime participant, "If someone would have told me that
technology would have brought my family together, I would have said they were
crazy, but it did!"
"This is good news for time-crunched families, and it goes against
the traditional view that technology fragments a family at home and reduces the
time they spend with one another," said Jurgen Heuer, Director, Connected Home
Group, Whirlpool Corporation, which led the pilot team and provided it with
Web-enabled Polara refrigerated ranges and refrigerators. "The research shows
that a broadband connection in the kitchen, coupled with the devices that allow
a family to utilize that connection, play a key role in allowing a family to
spend more, not less, quality time together."
"The social influence of broadband connectivity in the kitchen
came through loud and clear in the Mealtime Pilot," said Steve Blum, Director,
Emerging Home Solutions, Sears, Roebuck & Co., which provided home
integration services to the pilot. "The implications of the research are
significant for Sears on a variety of levels and will factor into the
development of our products and services."
In addition to increasing the amount and quality of time families
spent together, participants reported that the Mealtime solution improved the
number and nutritional value of their home-cooked meals, reduced the amount of
time and effort required to prepare meals and increased the variety of dishes
"The Mealtime solution liberated me from the tedious job of meal
planning and preparation," said one participant.
In the pilot, consumers managed kitchen and meal preparation tasks
from an oven, Web-enabled refrigerator tablet, Web-based entertainment/command
center and WAP (wireless application protocol) cell phone, which enabled them
Following are the other key findings of the pilot, which involved
20 families in the Boston, Massachusetts, area:
- Participants considered convenient Internet access to be the greatest
benefit of Mealtime. Household Internet usage increased in most pilot homes,
especially in those with only one PC and/or whose members spent less than 12
hours online in an average week prior to testing Mealtime. Participants
appreciated having access to information via the Icebox Flipscreen and
Whirlpool Web tablet.
- The type of centralized Internet access provided by Mealtime enhanced the
online grocery shopping experience. With Mealtime, Peapod customers found it
easier to check supplies on hand and add items to their online shopping lists.
They also said they were less likely than before to forget desired purchases.
- Most participants said they would ’probably’ or ‘definitely’ consider
purchasing a system like Mealtime in the future.
- The device used most often was the Icebox Flipscreen, which was perceived
by participants to offer the greatest ease-of-use.
"From an HP perspective, the Mealtime project gave us an
opportunity to test consumer interest in printing outside of the home office,"
said Tami Guy, Worldwide Consumer Strategist. "We learned that, if possible,
consumers will print in the other rooms, but they'd like to see some changes
made to the ID of the product, to make it more functional for that room. For
example, if it's for the kitchen, go with a smaller footprint, a splash-proof
screen and different color options so that it blends in with the decor, and fits
better in the space."
According to the Alliance, following are the important
implications of the research to companies in the connected home space:
- The Mealtime concept resonates with busy consumers. Mealtime effectively
helped pilot participants save time and effort in meal planning and
preparation. Moreover, it had a number of salutary benefits in terms of family
interaction. The Alliance believes the most compelling benefits can be
delivered with just networked versions of the Icebox Flipscreen and Whirlpool
Polara refrigerated range. The connected kitchen environment may be enhanced
by the addition of a kitchen-friendly printer, ideally, one with a small
footprint, splash-proofing, off-counter mounting capabilities and designer
- Ease-of-use is of paramount importance in winning over harried consumers.
Pilot participants had a number of device options for accessing and
manipulating the Mealtime system. The device used most often—the Icebox
Flipscreen—was perceived by participants to offer the greatest ease-of-use.
The control interface was deemed to be straightforward and intuitive. In
addition, using this interface to program the Polara refrigerated range
required the fewest steps. The WAP cell phone, on the other hand, was regarded
as an inordinately slow and confusing option. The pilot results support the
old adage that what’s easy to use gets used.
- If made commercially available, Mealtime should be offered at retail,
preferably in home improvement centers or department stores. When asked where
they would expect to see Mealtime presented and sold, most participants c