Recently, a YouTube channel (Technology Connections) declared that microwave technology has not advanced significantly since 1997. And while that was a prelude to a video about a particularly ambitious microwave from 1997, it made me think about appliances, and how they really haven’t changed much at all in the past decades.
Go into your local appliance store and you’ll quickly notice that most appliances look roughly the same as they always have. The finish might be a bit different - hope you like stainless steel - but otherwise if you travelled through time from 1978 you would be immediately able to understand how to use all of them.
Fridges? I know people who replaced a fridge that was 20 years old, and the only difference between that fridge and the new one - beyond the new one working - was the font used for the manufacturer logo. Stoves? I could probably use a new one blindfolded, they haven’t even really varied where the buttons are. Microwaves? Just got a new one in our house, and the only difference between it and the old one is that the new one is actually worse - it is getting warranty repair work done as I type this, while the old one was trouble-free for 10 years until it stopped working. While there are efficiency improvements behind the scenes and you can connect some of the higher end models to the internet for some unknown reason, for the average consumer, it looks like the world of appliances hasn’t changed at all for decades.
The one exception to this is washers, which all look completely different than the one in my basement, all have dramatically more functions and can be loaded from the front or the top depending how much you want to spend.
I can understand the stagnation. If you’re cooking, you basically know what you want to accomplish and how you want to do it. You don’t want to have to re-learn how to cook just because you bought a couple new appliances.
It also doesn’t make sense for manufacturers to go all out to try to reinvent the wheel. On the low end, for people who just want a fridge, just using the same rough design you always have is much cheaper than designing something new, and the people who just need a fridge are still going to buy it and be happy with it. On the high end, no matter how many features you add, there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel because they want the same basic functions. And since everything has to fit in roughly the same spot, even going wild with the form factor would be a silly move.
If anything, the greatest kitchen innovations are happening in small appliances, because those are not nearly as much of a time investment to replace. You can bring home something like an air fryer or pressure cooker in your car without calling any friends, and you get a new way to cook you didn’t have before.
But still, as I look at appliances, I can’t help but wish there was something a bit more exciting than “just like your old one, except functional.”
The exception to this is washers, and I’m actually surprisingly excited about the opportunity to get a new one. Now I just need the cash...