2015 is the Year of the Smart Kitchen

From fridges that know when you're low on milk to ovens that can preheat while you finish up in the gym—2015 will be the year when the kitchen gets smart.

With the International Consumer Electronics Show kicking off today in Las Vegas, expect to see a bunch of cool, flashy new tech flooding blogs and news sites this week. While giant curved 4K flat screens tend to steal the show, one trend that is hard to ignore is smart appliances—the so called ‘Internet of things.’ Wireless, app-enabled versions of appliances that already exist in your units will become the norm in coming decades. As with many types of new technology, it pays to be an early adopter. This is especially true in the apartment industry for a number of reasons.

GE Kitchen width

Renters by choice are already sacrificing a greater portion of their hard-earned paycheck for the convenience of living in amenity rich buildings in urban centers. Young earners are willing to pay for—and are expecting—features that make their busy lives easier. Take a smart refrigerator.

Milky Weight

Milky Weigh

O.K., I can sense your eyes rolling, but hear me out. What if you had a fridge that notified you when you are getting low on milk? Well, ChillHub, a fridge with Wi-Fi, two USB hubs and an open-source iOS-compatible app, can do that. Developed by a partnership between GE Appliances and Local Motors known as FirstBuild, the unit saw rapid design using 3D printing, and is an open development platform built for makers, tinkers and developers.

The first ChillHub accessory, Milky Weigh, is a mobile milk jug monitoring system that will provide a renter real-time updates on how much milk or juice you have left. While the 27.7 cubic foot French door ice and water refrigerator retails at $2,999—perhaps a bit high for most market rate apartments—the unit and its accessories are certainly a hint at what is to come. Plans from FirstBuild will even allow users to 3D print and build their own accessories.

When it comes to app-enabled appliances, GE has certainly been an innovator. Yesterday the company also announced that it had designed a full suite of Profile smart kitchen appliances that will launch throughout 2015. Smartphones, which really should be re-branded as ‘handhelds,’ will be the key to accessing these ranges, wall ovens, French door refrigerators and dishwashers. But your appliances work just fine without your phone, right?

GE_Laundry_app-dryer1Well, what if you could preheat the oven when you are pulling into the driveway? Your fridge could also notify you if your kid left the door open or when to change the water filter. GE’s new app will also have your dishwasher let you know if any handle or utensil is blocking the wash arm, or if the drain is clogged with food. This of course is in addition to monitoring for any performance issues of leaks. The tech is not limited to cooking appliances. Washers and dryers will send a note when it’s time to switch loads, or when the detergent reservoir is running low.

One thing to keep in mind when fitting units in the future is that tech does change rapidly. Features at the forefront today—which will certainly impress prospective renters—could become obsolete or even tacky depending on how the ‘Internet of things’ executes. First and foremost, you need to make sure appliances are attractive, functional and durable enough for the discerning renter. Tech should be seen as a value-add.