Kitchen Appliances: Innovate With Heavy Obligations
Like many other BtoC markets, the kitchen assistants sector has received a strong boost with the impact of the IoT wave. Smart kitchen devices are blossoming on a highly competitive market where the launch of innovations is crucial to maintaining and increasing market share.
The sector of smart kitchen devices is under heavy pressure and subjected to 3 powerful forces.
A high user experience expectation
As in many other sectors, users are becoming more and more demanding. The tool must be efficient while also being plug and play, intuitive, with a fluid UI, and connected in order to access a recipe library, for example. The purchasing decision is closely linked to the perception of innovation (bigger screen, voice command, etc.).
A notable seasonality
The strong pressures related to user expectations are coupled with an extremely demanding market context. Firstly, seasonality is very notable and implies strong pressure on innovation development projects because the deadlines set cannot be missed.
A high pressure on unit costs
Competition is fierce. Innovations have to offer maximum features at the best price. This places strong pressure on the unit cost of each machine and therefore in terms of hardware choices and connectivity solutions.
The software challenges:
The Witekio response:
Software is a key factor in the success of smart kitchen devices projects
With the multiplication of expected features and the growing need for connectivity, whether with the cloud or with other smartphone-like objects, the complexity of smart kitchen devices innovation projects is shifting from HW to SW.
This new state of affairs creates new challenges
- project management to bridge the gap between HW and SW culture
- steering third parties
- software development from low level to UI and cloud
- creation of a software platform to facilitate future developments
Particularly decisive technical challenges in innovative smart kitchen sector projects
1/ User experience approach, a key success factor
The number one condition driving the adoption of the product and the success of its commercial launch is ensuring that it meets the expectations of the intended consumers, both in terms of functionality (cook, mix, beat, grate, etc.), as well as interface (design and ergonomics, touch screen, voice command, etc.). To achieve this, a preliminary UX design phase design is essential.
This helps define the features that are really expected, and thus focus development efforts on them. It also defines the prerequisites for designing the most intuitive user interface possible.
This step, which is an increasingly frequent phase in the projects carried out by our teams, is organized around successive workshops to identify the product’s different « customers » (user, back-end manager, marketing, etc.),in order to precisely define the stages of their journey with the product, the expected features and their importance, the interface needs, etc.
Our project managers are thus the guarantors of a smooth transition to the next phases of the project, software architecture and development. The UX culture is thus fully integrated into the project and allows the right choices to be made, time to be saved and the right budgetary decisions taken.
2/ Product performance and reliability, profound changes are coming
MCU vs. MPU, project complexity is moving from hardware to software
User experience today means the screen, neat user interface, connectivity with other objects and with the cloud for an increasing number of interactions, both in the interest of the user and also the designer of the product who will be able to recover data to improve their product. This trend has a strong impact on innovative kitchen devices. Systems are becoming more complex, we will increasingly abandon the microcontroller for the microprocessor and software architecture will also become more complex, with more and more systems requiring the use of embedded Linux.
With a history in the embedded world, the Witekio expert engineers are perfectly at home with embedded Linux systems, from the simplest to the most complex and their experience in the field is vast. They can offer their expertise on all subjects, from the global architecture of a software system to the migration of an OS through debugging or security.
Optimizing performance, a real challenge
At the same time, despite this growing complexity, the user experience must be made the priority by offering smart kitchen devices that consume less and less energy, with the shortest possible switching times, provide a graphical user interface with great fluidity (video, …). Witekio experts support our customers in optimizing the performance of their product, whether it is development of a customized BSP to optimize the OS according to your hardware choices, optimization of boot time or reduction of energy consumption.
3/ Connectivity and interoperability, new prerequisites that often hide great technical complexity
For more and more smart kitchen assistant devices, connectivity is becoming indispensable. The end user will want a profile created, remote control, access to a recipe book, to download recipes, take photos, create or comment on recipes. This will require both a connection to the cloud (recipe book, creation of profiles) but also connectivity to other connected objects, with their own system, such as smart phones.
Provisioning and Pairing
The products coming out of the factory are all the same. Each product when it begins to function must be authenticated and back-end identified (for updates, etc.). These aspects must be taken into account beforehand to ensure that the product will be identified in the most simple and fluid way for its user. This authentication can take place at first use, when leaving the factory, etc.
Once the product has been identified, an innovative kitchen assistant will often have to be both connected to the cloud and also to another object, such as a smartphone.
Pairing methodologies must be carefully analyzed and are often the object of a POC for our customers’ projects.
The stakes are twofold:
- It is a technically complex task, but it has little business value.
- It must be as simple as possible for the user.
Different solutions must often be investigated to find the best compromise between simplicity for the user and the necessary complexity of the technical solution.
All Wifi? Bluetooth Low Energy?
One of our customers had decided on an all wifi solution. But once the POC was performed, the user tests showed that the technical solution, which was ideal on paper, was counter-intuitive for the end user. None of the testers proved to be able in practice to pair their smartphone with the product without the help of a technician. We therefore considered other solutions and ultimately opted for BlueToothLowEnergy, which in addition to improving the user experience aspect allowed costs to be reduced.
The solution can be sometimes quite simple and obvious, sometimes it will be necessary to go further and investigate alternative solutions of pairing via light or sound (like Amazon dashbuttons).
4/ Anonymized collection of usage data, the new el dorado to optimize the product
Manufacturers of connected objects are now able, thanks to the cloud connection, to recover data on the actual use of their product.
Data collection is enabled on the product when the end user has agreed. It then sends notifications to a remote server relating to product errors, actions performed by the product, actions performed by the user.
This data can enable better understanding of the use that is made of the product, to identify weaknesses and gaps and to be able to conceive and implement improvements. It is particularly crucial for smart kitchen devices as the market is so competitive.
The Witekio engineering teams have already experimented with the implementation and management of such systems and identified their main challenges, be it the formalization of messages, the consumption of data, the implementation of a remote server, etc. The OTA update becomes even more important because, together with the Anonymous Usage Data Tracking, it allows the functionalities of the product to be adjusted according to the statistics returned.