Back in the '90s there was a lot of talk and early investment in interactive services, primarily associated with the television. Any number of companies invested in these services, including the large telcos of the day and the IT suppliers seeing huge potential demand for their offerings. Around that time, I heard cultural critic and author Peter York comment about advertising in the age of interactive services. His comment has stayed with me. "The vast majority of people only want to interact with one thing - the fridge." He wasn't suggesting there was a need for a new wave of smart appliances; rather he was defining a wide level of apathy related to interactive services.
In March, a fridge magnet embedded with Bluetooth launched. It enables customers to place a delivery order for their favorite pizza at the push of a button on the tiny device. This simple device is developed with the less-than-grand aspiration of selling a few more pizzas to a target market of people who find walking to a fridge and pressing a button a more compelling option than picking up a phone and talking, or using the web, or even using a mobile app. Oh, it only applies to ordering from a single pizza delivery company, Red Tomato - operating in Dubai.
The device garnered broad international press coverage. Reports carried a range of reactions in the mainstream press. The NY Daily News labeled it one of the "world's stupidest inventions" while TIME went for faux elation in extolling its readers to "behold its majesty."
For a device that has garnered so much international interest, the fridge magnet is remarkably low-cost and simple. The Bluetooth transmitter is activated by the push of the button. That initiates a signal to a previously paired smartphone within close range. The phone sends a message for the favorite pizza type to be sent to the preregistered address. Pizza choices and other changes can be made at the application website.
There remains a belief in interactive services increasingly integrated with smart appliance. In the past year, both Samsung and LG have promoted smart fridges with a range of online capabilities. What is truly interesting about the fridge magnet is that perhaps the fridge doesn't have to be smart, or at least, not in the near term. Mobile handsets and tablets are increasingly the device of choice for an ever wider range of applications in the home. As with Red Tomato’s fridge magnet, consumers and the companies that want to interact with them can by-pass the need for a customer base with new smart appliances and instead provide connectivity that leverages the technology consumers already have in their hands. It's not the fridge that has to be smart, but rather the application and the marketing. Connectivity and interactivity with fridges and many other home devices for that matter is certainly a developing trend and a growing market, but that communication may well just be short range to a mobile handset rather than to the cloud directly. Like it or not, the single-button pizza delivery fridge magnet could just be the start.