One of the big cultural shifts in the computing industry has been the realization that computers are basically toasters at this point — an appliance people use, not a magic reality-warping machine. LG gets the paradigm shift and its press event this morning showed how one company is addressing the "your computer is an appliance" mentality: By juicing up appliances with the abilities we expect from our laptops and smartphones.
Today, LG announced the inclusion of "Deep ThinQ"-branded learning technology in all its smart appliances. The voice-controlled tech uses machine learning — including cloud-based iterative learning and big data analysis — to respond and react to a household's patterns and specific requests. Deep ThinQ will be included in everything from washing machines to vacuums to refrigerators.
And, because LG is really, really into televisions, they whipped out a stunner: the LG Signature 4K OLED W series. The entire device is less than a tenth of an inch thick, and its transparent edges make it appear to float on the wall. I own Ikea picture frames that are a lot more bulky. The W series television attaches to your wall via magnetic brackets, thereby adding to the idea that your screen is basically one with the wall — unobtrusive and displaying stunning pictures when you want it to.
However, one area that remains unanswered: Whether these smart appliances, which have already adopted the PC's perpetual connectivity, data retrieval and e-commerce aptitudes, will also adopt another PC strength: Individual user profiles. A refrigerator is the kind of appliance that everyone in the household uses. Will everyone in the house have the same user permissions on a smart fridge? And if these fridges are tied into an Amazon account or a Google account — both partners who made an appearance in the LG presentation this morning — whose account? How easy would it be to switch user accounts? And how do you handle things like frequent visitors or occasional guests? The minute purchasing power and data profiles are attached to refrigerator activity, a household member is going to have to be mindful of when and how those things are used.
LG's vision of "life is good" via a home full of smart appliances that take away a lot of life's little busywork — meal-planning, grocery shopping, vacuuming. But what type of busywork are they introducing? And when we invite smart products and their associated services into our home, exactly what are we giving away in exchange for the ability to find a recipe on demand?
There are a lot of unanswered questions, which I'll do my best to pursue when I visit the LG booth later. Among them:
1. The smart fridges all run webOS. How are updates delivered? How will users be able to block or roll back updates as needed? How are users informed of updates or best practices when it comes to security?
2. How long will LG support a smart fridge? A lot of folks hang on to their refrigerators for years — is LG really prepared to maintain the OS and support it for decades? Or will users be out of luck once the company decides a fridge is "obsolete"?
3. How easy will it be to find repair and service professionals for all these smart appliances all over the country? What costs will be added to making service calls if you happen to live hundreds of miles from an urban center?
4. Will a copy of the user preferences be stored in the cloud so people can download old data profiles if they have to reboot their fridge or if they buy a new one?
5. Speaking of data: Do users have an option to see what data their smart appliances are collecting? Can they delete any of it? Can they opt out? When and how are users informed of what data is being collected, where it's stored, and how it's secured? LG touted its partnerships with Google and Amazon — where and how can you find the data that those companies are collecting on you and your habits via your fridge?
6. Furthermore: Let's say you want to sell your smart appliance on Craigslist. How easy will it be to delete all your account data and wipe the machine so the next person doesn't use your Amazon Prime account to order a dozen tins of caviar off Amazon Fresh?
7. The LG Signature 4K OLED W series TV is attached to the wall with magnetic brackets. How well with these hold up in earthquake country?
8. Speaking of magnets, will these monkey with other media storage we may happen to have nearby, like portable hard drives?
9. Television sound has been affected by the change in design; a lot of hard-of-hearing people observe that flatscreen televisions don't project sound as well as older models. With a very thin, wallpaper-esque television model, how good is the sound projection?