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Whirlpool’s Centralpark ‘Connected’ Fridge/Freezer is a Little Hokey

Whirlpool was right to keep it simple after years of attempting complicated "connected kitchens," but is new solution too simple?


What Whirlpool brings to the Centralpark Connection appliance is a hidden power outlet on the freezer door. Partners build the power prong into their products—in this case an iPod speaker system—so the devices can hang on the door.

All our talk about showers , tubs and beds lately reminded me of Whirlpool's "high-tech" refrigerator/freezer demonstrated at CES 2008.

I read about the newfangled Whirlpool Centralpark Connection prior to CES 2008, so I was eager to check out the innovation -- mostly for a little chuckle. Over the years, Whirlpool has gone a little too far in trying to connect its major appliances to the digital world.

For a couple of years in 2000 and 2001, the company embraced the then-emerging OSGi gateway protocol, and showed all manner of connectivity in the kitchen.

In a typical trade-show demo, a harried housewife would utter commands to a countertop Web tablet, which would spit out a menu. Microwave ovens would adjust automatically. Moms could call in late from a soccer game to warm up the lasagna.

The whole family's schedule would be maintained right there on the fridge. You know the drill.

Whirlpool had every intention of rolling out the connected kitchen in 2002. Six years later, we may have PowerScour and AccuBake from Whirlpool, but no Internet-connected ovens.

The whole darn vision would have been too difficult to implement – too much for consumers to swallow, too hard for Whirlpool and its dealers to support.

Kinder, Gentler Connected Kitchen

This time, Whirlpool got smart. "Instead of doing it all ourselves, we decided to partner with people," said Mark Hamilton, director of Whirlpool's new Centralpark initiative, during CES.

Admitting that earlier connected-kitchen initiatives were too ambitious, Hamilton touted the much simpler Centralpark approach.

Here's how Whirlpool promotes Centralpark:

Have you ever noticed how the kitchen counters are a magnet for mess? The award-winning Whirlpool Centralpark Connection, a refrigerator with an interchangeable plug-and-play platform, is the ideal solution for that bothersome kitchen clutter. And the Centralpark Connection helps you get more done every day -- from keeping photo displays fresh to organizing family activities.

Sounds complicated, right? In fact, Whirlpool's technological contribution to Centralpark boils down to this, according to Hamilton: "Really, it's just power."

That's right. Whirlpool has added a power outlet to the top of the freezer door. Woo hoo!

Its partners now are building products that can slide into that outlet.

Ceiva has the first Centralpark product, a Wifi digital photo frame with an eight-inch LCD screen and a built-in card reader. "Now you can display thousands of family photos right on your refrigerator door without a single magnet," Whirlpool boasts.

At CES, Whirlpool also showed prototypes from other partners, including an iPod speaker station from Brandmotion, Clio Vu Wifi Web tablet from Data Evolution (loaded with Cozi family-management software), and Qnote Message Center from Quartet.

You have to give credit to Whirlpool for getting manufacturers to completely revamp their products to comply with the Centralpark form factor. How does Whirlpool do it?

"We're in 40 percent of consumers' homes," Hamilton says. Now there's an enticement.

He also reminds us that Whirlpool is on 700 Best Buy floors, where the Centralpark Connection ($1,999) is now being merchandised with the Ceiva frame. (The products are also being sold through hhgregg.)

The Ceiva for Centralpark retails for $249 -- about $50 more than the tabletop version.

As for future Centralpark innovations: perhaps something more than a mere power port? I asked Hamilton about something crazy like an Ethernet port. "We've heard people asking about that," he said. "I think we would consider it."

Flash back to 2001 and Whirlpool's ultra-connected kitchen.

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About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]


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