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Does that appliance need an app? I don’t think so

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of apps. I really am. What would we do with our phones if we didn’t have apps? Call people? Fooey! What’s the fun in that? I just don’t believe every home appliance we have in our lives deserves a companion app. If it can’t add something, then it’s just digital clutter.

What I’m not a fan of is pointless crap, and so many apps are afterthoughts.

Someone somewhere said, “Well, we should have an app.”

Someone else started scrambling and said, “Yes, of course, we should.”

All of this activity happens with no thought to how the app will add to the appliance. That’s what gets me going. If you’re going to do something, put some thought into it. If having an app doesn’t make sense, then don’t do it. After all, a poor app experience equals a poor brand experience. In our social media-centric world, that’s not a good thing.

What is the point? Really?

I review a lot of home appliances and many of them have an accompanying app. These apps are typically either more trouble than they’re worth or they don’t add any real value. Case in point: Kitchen appliances. What does having an app really add? Most of the time they can do the following:

  • Create a custom setting: You know, because the multiple setting combinations on the washer or dryer are just not enough. If the washing machine can’t do what you want, an app isn’t going to help. For example, say you want to steam your clothes. If the washer doesn’t support that feature, an app can’t make that magically happen.
  • Start your appliance remotely: I have a few fundamental issues with this one. First, there needs to be laundry in the washer or dryer, so someone needs to either load clothes or switch them between units. It’s the same scenario for a dishwasher. Someone needs to put dishes in the machine. If a person needs to be at the appliance anyway, doesn’t it seems easier to press a button on the machine instead of searching for an app on your phone and then telling it to tell the washer/dryer to do something? Second, how lazy are we? I’ve heard all the use cases, but you’re on the couch in the middle of watching a show and you just remembered you had laundry in the machine. You don’t want to have to run up or down stairs to start a load when you can do it from your phone. Is that really a good enough reason to have an app? I don’t think so. The only time I can even remotely see that scenario working is if you have a washing machine that’s also a dryer, but that’s likely not the case.
  • Automatically order replacement supplies: Say you have a smart refrigerator that’s connected to Google Nest or Alexa-compatible devices and it can automatically order water filters for you. That’s great, but does the appliance need its own app when you have to confirm the purchase on a website anyway? On the flip side, if the app can tell you that the refrigerator temperature is rising and all your food is about to spoil, then that’s useful information. Can most fridge apps do that? Not so much, and they often need to be connected to your home Wi-Fi network for the apps to work. If the power goes out and you don’t have Wi-Fi or a working fridge – how are you going to know that the food is about to spoil?

In all of these scenarios, the only “smart” thing I want is a robot like Rosie from The Jetsons, who can do the laundry and dishes and put them away. No be-bop-boop or app-touching from me. Don’t even get me started on super apps. Why?!

But apps are cool

Sometimes it makes sense to have an app. Consider robot vacuums — if they didn’t come with apps, you couldn’t create schedules for them or identify no-go zones just by touching the device because they don’t have a touchscreen.

The same idea goes for smart lights — lights don’t have an interface. They were designed to screw into a socket and work with a switch. Way back in 1879, that was pretty “smart” technology … truly ground-breaking and life-changing. Now lights can do so much more: change colors, sync with music, go on and off as the outside environment changes, turn on remotely, etc.

It makes sense that you need an app to do any of those things with the robovacs or lights, but does it need a separate app? If you’ve got Google Nest Hub, an Alexa-enabled device, and even Siri products — you probably don’t need another app. There are protocols that engineers can tie into to make their products work with these smart home hubs. That overall experience still has a way to go, but it’s a start. For it to be magical, it should be a seamless plug-and-play interaction. That’s a discussion for another day.

The point is that apps shouldn’t make us any lazier than we are already becoming. They should add to the experience or put the whole interaction on steroids — otherwise, it’s just another thing cluttering up our phones.

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Joni Blecher
Joni Blecher has been reviewing consumer tech products since before cell phones had color screens. She loves testing products…
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