Samsung Teaches An Old Appliance New Tricks: The Family Hub Refrigerator

Samsung has developed an internet-enabled refrigerator that promises to organize the lives of today's busy families. Consumers are excited, but can they stomach the price?

Home is where the heart is, but exactly where within the home is it? Many would argue that the heart situates itself in the kitchen, and not just because it harbors the snacks that relax us from the stresses of our daily lives. Located in the center of most homes, the kitchen represents a gathering place for the family where important information is shared and plans are communicated. In lieu of an office-style cork message board, the refrigerator serves as the family’s repository for calendars, notes, shopping lists, and cherished photos. Since the 1960s, the method of posting this information has been accomplished almost entirely with refrigerator magnets, a product ubiquitous in gift shops and home furnishing stores [1]. Samsung believes that this decades-long entrenched behavior is inefficient and ripe for disruption with an innovative, differentiated business model.

Enter the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator, an appliance that leverages the internet of things to become a one-stop destination for hosting family information—in addition to just keeping the groceries cold. This fridge sends you updated pictures of the contents inside (reducing food waste), and has a 21 inch HD LCD touch screen that displays notes, photos, calendars and artwork [2]. Furthermore, audio and television can be directly streamed onto this screen [3]. By providing all these features, Samsung’s refrigerator strives to create ample value for consumers such that life without an internet-enabled fridge would resemble life without an internet-enabled computer.

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As proof of the excitement for these ‘smart-home’ products, Samsung received the most social media mentions at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas [4]. A number of tweaks Samsung made to their operational model to adapt to a rapidly changing market could very well explain some of the hype. While Samsung historically tended to internally develop hardware and software, the Family Hub Refrigerator was instead sourced from a small San Francisco based startup called Sticki [5]. Likewise, the company established a strategic partnership with Nuance Communications, who developed an integrated “far talking” embedded voice technology that facilitates the activation Family Hub products from anywhere in the room [6].

samsung-familyhub-refrigerator

While Samsung has taken a major stride towards advancing the functionality and value of the family refrigerator, many skeptics have expressed doubts regarding the prospects of commercial success. One factor involves the suggested retail price of the Family Hub Refrigerator: nearly $6,000. At this price point, Samsung’s appliance is over 500% more expensive than the average baseline side-by-side refrigerator [7]. Furthermore, rapid growth in the smart-home device sector is not expected to occur. Today, only 6% of American households have a smart-home device, including internet-connected appliances, home-monitoring systems, speakers or lighting; in five years, this number will gently rise to 15% [8]. In a similar vein, 72% of people have no plans to adopt smart-home technology in the next two to five years and are generally unwilling to pay for it [8]. Finally, refrigerators have an average lifetime of 6-15 years, far longer than that of a tablet computer. Thus, ten years into the future, consumers will be stuck with outmoded touchscreen functionality [9].

Samsung can potentially take a number of steps to avoid the pitfalls that lie ahead of them in this market. One enticing option could involve modularizing the tablet from the rest of the refrigerator. This action would have the effect of lowering the total price by permitting the consumer to purchase the compatible tablet at a future date, when it was deemed more critical. Additionally, modularizing the tablet would allow the consumer to make significant hardware updates as this Family Hub technology developed without having to find a completely new fridge. Samsung has another option for reassuring those skittish of smart-home technology, especially of appliances that operate on proprietary software and hardware: they could choose to allow their fridge to run on open-source software or even with non-Samsung tablets. In this way, the consumer’s fear of being locked into the ‘Family Hub’ environment could be assuaged.

Alas, only time will tell when families will choose to swap out their novelty analog fridge magnets for an ‘evolved’ digital solution.

(680 words)

  1. Meacham, Steve (January 2015). “Confessions of a fridge magnet collector,” The Sydney Morning Herald
  2. Björkqvist, Maja (2016). “How Can Food Waste Be Reduced?” BFA Thesis, Umeå Institute of Design
  3. Wilson, Jonathan (February 2016). “Analogue Revival Fuzzies The Future of Digital,” Engineering & Technology
  4. Tadena, Nathalie (January 2016). “Samsung Scores the Most Social Media Buzz at CES,” The Wall Street Journal
  5. Chen, Jonathan (January 2016). “Samsung Sees Mild Recovery for Fourth Quarter but Warns of Tough 2016,” The Wall Street Journal
  6. “Nuance Creates a More Human Experience with the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator,” Business Wire (January 2016).
  7. Funk, John (September 2014). “New refrigerator efficiency standards mean your next fridge will cost more but sip electricity, says U.S. DOE and industry,” com
  8. “Where the Smart Is.” The Economist (June 2016).
  9. Heater, Brian (May 2016). “A closer look at Samsung’s connected Family Hub Refrigerator,” TechCrunch

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4 thoughts on “Samsung Teaches An Old Appliance New Tricks: The Family Hub Refrigerator

  1. I agree with you that adoption of these types of smart devices will pose a challenge to retailers in the coming years. I’m particularly interested to see what the ecosystems of connected devices look like across homes. Will there be an Apple-esque winner that has a closed system or will it be a more open compilation of various brands that occupy most homes? One area that I would’ve liked to see you address is the security issues associated with the IoT. Systems of connected devices in the home increase access points and people often underestimate the ability of hackers to gain access and move laterally through a network. Sites like Shodan (https://www.shodan.io/) make it much easier for potential hackers to see what their next target could be.

  2. Alex – very interesting post. We are certainly seeing more and more “smart-home” products enter the market today. Samsung has made a noticeable push into the home appliance sector over the last few years. Although I am not surprised to see the company offer a digitized refrigerator, a price point of $6,000 is extremely difficult to rationalize, especially as technology improves and decreases in price each year. Amazon has recently released its “dash” buttons that cost $4.99. I see this as a much more affordable solution to a similar problem. I’d also challenge the notion that people need their schedules, etc. synced with their refrigerator these days. My guess is that families have already shifted to Apple or Google calendars which can easily be sync’d with multiple smartphone devices. I definitely think there is a play to be made in smart home appliances, although I am not sure the smart refrigerator is a compelling purchase at a $6,000 price point. Regardless, it is very interested to see Samsung offer such a product. Great post!

  3. Hi Alex, really interesting topic! One of the things that I often wonder about with proven appliances like the refrigerator that add additional layers of technology is whether or not the value add from that technology is worth the tradeoff in shorter lifespan (although it appears Samsung is working to find a way around that concern) and decreased reliability (more sensors means more things that can break). Are digital sticky notes really that much more convenient that regular sticky notes? Do I need a digital list of what’s in my fridge rather than just opening it in the morning before I leave for work and noting the items I need to buy? While this technology is really interesting, I think that manufacturers have some work to do in defining and communicating the applications where it can truly provide significant added value.

  4. Hi Alex, thanks for sharing! The kitchen was definitely the hub at home, and I wonder if technology like a smart-fridge will become the hub of broader smart-home technology. For example, integrating smart home-security, smart-doorbell, temperature control, lighting control, etc into the same interface that is displayed on the fridge. It kind of reminds of the Smart House movie where there was a centralized system that controlled everything in the house.

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