The connected range I purchased back in November arrived this week, and the entire experience — from researching to purchasing to connecting the appliance — taught me a lot of lessons about the future of the smart home. I ended up buying a GE Appliances Café induction range; it replaced an aging Bosch oven that wouldn’t hold a temperature.
If I’m being honest, a Wi-Fi connection wasn’t even on the shortlist of features I needed in an oven.
So lesson one is that even the most smart home-crazy early adopter will buy a large appliance with an eye toward the device’s core functionality, not smart features. I focused first on induction, burner capability, and location, then oven size, features, and rack size. At no point during the sales process did anyone mention anything about Wi-Fi.
But a week or two after ordering the oven, GE Appliance, which is owned by Haier, sent out a press release saying that owners of certain ovens would get an over-the-air update that would let them automatically cook the “perfect turkey” using the temperature probe that came with the oven and a pre-loaded recipe. It reminded me of the capabilities of the June oven, which I own and love.
So I looked at the receipt for my oven and saw that, yes, it had Wi-Fi. Cool. I then promptly forgot about it until the oven arrived. Once it was installed and I started reading the manual, I discovered that GE Appliances has a deal with Hestan Cue, a maker of smart pans, that offers what GE called “precision cooking.”
They had me at “smart pans.” I had seen the Hestan Cue demos at The Spoon’s food tech events and was familiar with the system, which consists of smart pans, an induction cooktop, and an app. With it, you can accurately control the temperature of the burner and pan so you can melt chocolate and perform other tasks that require fine-grained temperature control and a bit of babysitting, such as making candy or puddings.
I was so excited. It was as though my range, which I already loved, had suddenly become more capable and valuable all thanks to the Wi-Fi connection and the Hestan Cue integration.
Since I was just moving to an induction range, which requires compatible pans, I already had new pans in my shopping cart. So I simply swapped out the $300 chef pan I intended to purchase for the $225 Hestan Cue chef pan (it was on sale).
So lesson two is that when done well, a connected appliance can deliver joy (and potentially additional purchases) if the manufacturer invests in quality integrations and features.
There are a couple of things that would have made me skip the special pans and smart features. One is if it required a paid subscription. I also would have opted out if I hadn’t already known that GE had worked with UL to certify its appliances under UL’s relatively new IoT cybersecurity standards. GE chose to get the UL gold standard, which means traffic is encrypted during storage and transmission between the device and servers and the app is monitored for data and security breaches. I’d prefer one level up to Diamond level certification, which would provide additional security from a secure enclave and notifications when privacy changes happen. But at least I know that GE cares about security.
I was disappointed that I didn’t find anything in GE’s documentation touting this certification. But since no one mentioned Wi-Fi during the sales process, it makes sense that they wouldn’t tell me about its cybersecurity efforts. Lesson three is that while cybersecurity is important, it’s also probably not a selling point. It’s just something a manufacturer needs to have, much like it needs to ensure its ovens lock during a cleaning cycle. Security isn’t a feature. It’s fundamental.
Finally, after ordering the pans, checking for the cybersecurity rating, and seeing whether or not my oven would talk to Alexa or Google (not a reason for me to connect the oven, but a nice-to-have since I’m connecting it), I downloaded the GE Appliances Smart HQ app and got ready to connect.
The app’s ratings are dismal on both Android (2.1, on average) and on Apple (2.9). Disappointingly, GE asks for your physical address, which it will share with third-party advertisers along with usage data. Upon seeing that, I almost stopped the connection process right then and there. And indeed, if the smart pans don’t perform as I hope they will, I may just disconnect the device and give up on a connected range altogether. I hate that GE thinks so little of me that it will sell my address and usage data to third parties to make a little extra coin. After spending $4,000 to buy one of its products, it’s disrespectful.
Which brings us to lesson four of connected appliances: Respect the buyer; don’t sell their information. At the moment, I’m begrudgingly accepting that to get what I want (precision cooking) I have to share my data, but I’m ready to dump the connectivity if the experience isn’t awesome. I’m also warning every person out there looking at buying a connected appliance to weigh the value of their data against what connectivity enables.
Once it was finally time to connect my new oven, I was transported back to 2015, when connecting a device was a chore. The oven has a soft AP that broadcasts its own Wi-Fi network. To start the broadcast, I had to go into the oven’s setting menu and press 2 for Wi-Fi.
Once the Wi-Fi signal was broadcasting from the appliance, I had to go into the settings menu on my phone, switch over to the GE Wi-Fi network, and connect to it with a password displayed on the oven screen. From there, the oven connected and asked for my Wi-Fi SSID and password, which I entered. Success!
Notably, I use an Android phone; Apple usually has an easier process for connecting devices. But phone aside, this set-up process felt ancient. Most companies now use QR codes, Bluetooth, or other mechanisms to make connecting an appliance as easy as opening an app and searching for a nearby device. The process I went through is one that trips up consumers all the time.
So lesson five is make connecting as seamless as possible. My experience wasn’t terrible, but it is one that will cause headaches for people who aren’t used to connecting things.
I’m still waiting for my pans, but I have connected the range to Google Assistant (which was a little wonky, process-wise) and can preheat the oven using my voice. So far, I’m hoping the Wi-Fi connection is worth the random email that marketers may send me, but that’s going to depend on future software updates and the Hestan Cue experience. If those aren’t awesome, I’m taking this range back offline.