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When it comes to technologies and innovation, appliances get interesting—refrigerators especially. Refrigerators have come a long way from the iceboxes of the 19th and early 20th centuries, so much so that lasting innovations are somewhat rare nowadays. New features often have a gimmicky, get-it-and-forget-it quality and then get dropped from future releases. It's for this reason that we're cautiously optimistic about what 2021 has in store for everyone's most essential kitchen appliance.
The tech trends for refrigerators aren't just upgrading existing smart features (though that's something we'll discuss), they're looking at fundamental problems with fridge design and tackling them piece by piece.
Here's a list of a few features that we expect to see more of next year.
Transparent food storage is one area we've seem gradually becoming more and more mainstream, with several fridges on the horizon taking advantage of glass doors. The idea behind a glass door is simple: It allows you to see the contents of the fridge without opening the door first. This means more deliberate trips to the fridge and fewer instances of you gawking at its content while holding the door wide open. All this ensures your food spends more time at even temperatures.
Glass doors can be implemented in many different ways. For example, the new Bosch 800 series has a separate beverage drawer with a glass front. It's meant for storing wines, which typically want to be a bit warmer than safe fridge settings. The glass door allows you to peruse your wine collection without disturbing its temperature, which should help preserve your wines better.
Also, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the glass door on the Bosch 800's wine drawer shows off its a red oak shelf that cradles the wine bottles at the correct angle. While unexpected in a fridge, the wooden fixtures look gorgeous. The older Bosch 800 fridges had some of the best aesthetics in the industry, so we're really looking forward to seeing the new ones in person.
Glass-door refrigerators are also neat because they can double as a see-through smart displays, which is another feature that's been gradually rolling out to more and more LG fridges.
While this gives you access to the functionality you'd expect, we're more excited at the potential for augmented reality features that become possible with a transparent display. For example, this could allow users to point to a food item in their fridge and get an overlay displaying information about it, like how long it's been in there, its expiration date, or if someone's reserved it for a planned meal. When coupled with inventory-tracking tech (which we'll discuss later), the possibilities for these joint technologies may boom; we're watching to see how things evolve over the coming year.
Ice makers that produce higher quality ice, faster
While fridges have featured built-in ice makers for years, its implementation has been advancing. Based on the trends we've seen, your new fridge's ice maker will likely produce ice of a much higher quality, at a significantly increased quantity, and/or just way more quickly.
Two new Bosch 500 Series refrigerators feature the QuickIcePro System, which provides freshly-filtered ice at a very rapid rate: up to 12 pounds per day. If you're used to throwing parties and running out of ice before the night is over, this fridge will keep you well stocked in cold cubes.
On the other side of the spectrum, one of LG's newer fridges makes spherical ice. Not only do these cold globes look like something served at a trendy cocktail bar, they're also just better at being ice than the traditional trapezoidal prism you're used to—a sphere of ice has the lowest possible surface area, which means it melts more slowly compared to other shapes, keeping your drink colder for longer.
Air filters that remove ethylene
Ethylene: It's the bane of crisper drawers everywhere. This chemical compound is a natural plant hormone given off by fruits. It encourages ripening and leaf drop, and it's also why it's a good idea to keep fruits and veggies in separate drawers. Otherwise, ethylene-emitting fruits will speed up the rate at which your veggies rot.
Bosch has recently begun rolling out refrigerators that actually filter out ethylene (and other unwanted gasses), keeping the food you store in your fridge happy, healthy, and surrounded by fresh air. While this is great news for mitigating the damage fresh fruits can wreak on other produce, it also helps prevent pungent odors (say, from last night's leftover garlicky clam sauce) from seeping into surfaces where they don't belong and contaminating the flavor of your other food.
While both companies will use AI in slightly different ways, the crux of the technology is the same: Internal cameras will be able to track different foodstuffs entering and exiting your fridge. This will allow your fridge to keep an inventory of what you have in stock, alert you when ingredients are about to go bad, suggest recipes based on what you have in stock, and generate shopping lists for you.
Ever-better smart features
Let's be honest: A lot of appliance smart features aren't particularly useful. Sure, it's nice to have a touchscreen where you can jot notes or be able to leave a video message for members of your household, but really, the main smart feature that's essential in a refrigerator—in our opinion, at least—is the ability to get a text if the fridge door doesn't fully shut or if the freezer door pops open because it's just way too packed. Thankfully, this smart feature is trending for 2021 in new Bosch fridges as well as less expensive models from LG, Samsung, and Frigidaire.
Another practical smart application that's becoming more of a staple? Diagnostics. Your fridge is better than ever at knowing what's going wrong with it, and it can help you pinpoint problems before they worsen—or at least make the visit from a repair technician more efficient.
We're honestly excited to see what else is on the horizon
Again, it's hard to tell at the onset of a new technology if it's going to be a novelty or a game-changer. As in the past, we'll keep an eye on appliance trends and make sure to get all these new smart fridges into our labs to test just how smart they really are. Check back for more updates.