Apple TV and the kitchen of the future

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Since the announcement of the new Apple TV, we at Mutual Mobile have been considering the range of applications for which the new device would be well-suited. Most of our ideas centered around a TV in the living room, but it occurred to us that having a display in other places around the house could be just as valuable. Notably, the kitchen has a wealth of opportunities for technology to make our lives easier. While various products and services have chipped away at the challenges we face in the kitchen, nothing has really provided the compelling, integrated experience that we dream of.

Apple TV as a shelf stocker

Maintaining a shopping list is an obvious place to start. There are phone apps that already do this reasonably well, though they’re nearly impossible to use when you’re elbows-deep in a cookie recipe and realize you’ve used the last of the butter. The Amazon Echo solves that problem with its excellent voice control, but lacks a display, making reviewing and managing your list very cumbersome. (The fact that the Echo will cheerfully add “butter” to your shopping list 47 times without batting an eye makes it less useful as well.)

The Apple TV’s combination of a display and Siri support open this door a little wider, though the lack of always-on “Hey Siri” functionality keeps it from being an ideal solution. (I have high hopes Apple will eventually add this, though it will be tough to make it work really well without a mic array like the Echo and Microsoft Kinect use.) Still, one could link a bluetooth headset to a third-party speech recognition API to provide hands-free operation and a pretty good user experience for enthusiastic chefs. Connecting the Apple TV to a Bluetooth barcode scanner, to an iPhone, or even to a smart trash can would also allow a cook to scan products as he exhausts his supply and have them automatically added to his shopping list.

Once our hub is keeping track of the things we’re getting from the store, it can also help us keep an eye on what supplies and foods we actually have around. Our barcode scanner can easily add new items to our kitchen inventory if we bought them on impulse, rather than off our list. When we tell our system that we bought some apples, it can automatically remind us in 5 days that we might want to think about finishing them off before they go bad. It can also remind us about our leftovers, encouraging us to freeze them if they haven’t been eaten after a couple days. And when we add tarragon to our shopping list, it can remind us “You bought some tarragon two months ago, and have only cooked one recipe with it since. Are you sure you want more?”

Apple TV as a sous chef

Our kitchen hub could also be a huge help with cooking and recipes. In addition to maintaining a library of our favorite dishes, it could provide a unified front-end for the various recipe websites around the internet. Semantic understanding of what a recipe is and how it works would allow sophisticated queries: “I need a gluten-free recipe with chicken,” or “I need to feed 12 people and only have 15 minutes to cook,” or “Let’s try something vegetarian that I haven’t made before.”

Since our system is already keeping track of our kitchen stock, one could ask “What can I fix with the ingredients in my kitchen that need to be used up in the next few days?” or “Are there any tasty leftovers around?” or “Add whatever ingredients I need to make green bean casserole that I don’t already have to my shopping list.”

Our hub could also help with the practicalities of cooking: multiple timers would allow us to be sure we get both the steak and the bread cooked to perfection. In fact, since our system would know about all the recipes we might be preparing for a given meal, it could create a workflow for us that would allow everything to be ready to go to the table at the same time — a welcome help, as anyone who has ever prepared a Thanksgiving feast will attest.
A bluetooth enabled kitchen scale would help us measure our ingredients accurately, checking off each ingredient as we add it to the recipe. A connected kitchen thermometer could ensure that our meats are cooked through and safe to eat. Links to how-to videos and cooking shows could provide just-in-time learning. And finally, when I burn the dinner in spite of all my technological help, a panic button would automatically order food for my hungry guests.

Apple TV as a kitchen manager

Cooking co-ops have become popular among people who like home-cooked meals, but don’t like having to cook every night. Rotating cooking duties among neighbors is a terrific way to lessen that load, but comes with big coordination challenges: who has what dietary restrictions? Who is out of town this week and won’t need a meal? What will I need to buy to be able to fix such a large quantity of food when it’s my turn?

Our connected kitchen could make it very easy to answer these sorts of questions by letting people sign up for meals and, once a cook decides what meal she’ll be preparing, generating a list of what will be needed. In fact, as delivery services introduce APIs, it could even order the ingredients for her to be delivered or picked up at a nearby grocery.

Apple TV as a nutritionist

Another way that the connected kitchen could help is by managing access to between-meal snacks. With a locking “snack cabinet”, parents could allow kids a certain number of between-meal snacks (or one bag of chips and all the apples they want). For adults working to lose weight, it could provide a gentle reminder of how many calories are in that cookie they’ve asked for, while also displaying nutritional information for a plum, dried dates, or other healthier options to get them considering alternatives.

Our connected kitchen could even help when we bring home take-out. By integrating with the Smart Fork, we can make sure we’re not wolfing down our meals at an unhealthy pace and keep a rough tally of how much we’ve eaten. And by connecting a molecular spectrometer to our hub, we can determine how many calories are in that plate of General Tso’s you brought home. (Hint: you don’t want to know.)

So that’s what our Apple TV-based connected kitchen might look like. It could be a huge help with shopping, cooking, inventory management, watching one’s weight, and good nutrition. Now all we need to do is actually build it. (I hope it’s done soon — I’m getting hungry.)

Thanks to Dan Murrell, Eva Mackay, Shane Miller, and Russ Buyse for the thoughtful input they contributed to this article.

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