Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

This $1,500 Toaster Oven Is Everything That’s Wrong With Silicon Valley Design

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Mark Wilson writes at FastCodeDesign.com:

I slide a piece of salmon into the June, one of the most advanced ovens ever built. Loaded with a camera, temperature probe, Wi-Fi, and algorithms, it’ll cost you $1,500. It required nearly $30 million in venture capital to create. It was the brainchild of the engineer who brought us the iPhone’s camera and Ammunition, the design firm that gave us Beats headphones.

“We take very hard technologies, AI, deep learning, and lots of sensors, and we apply that to creating a well thought through, simple interface that just makes your life better,” says June cofounder Matt Van Horn, another Apple alum who cofounded Zimride, today known as Lyft. “Our MO is we just want to inspire people to cook more.” It’s a tall order, but one that Van Horn delivers earnestly, the idea being that if cooking required less of us, we’d simply do it more. Yet in buying into the June, the home cook is becoming a consumer rather than a creator. The June asks cooks to put their faith in the fledging startup’s proprietary software getting better, rather than improving their own analog skills—skills that will work on any machine, in any kitchen.

Door closed, the oven knows it’s salmon. I press “salmon,” and the June glows like a space heater, convection fans whirring. In precisely 10 minutes and 38 seconds my salmon will be done, the screen claims. Which seems way too fast, but what do I know? But 10 minutes becomes 20, and 20 fades into 40. It’s almost seven, and still the timer’s ETA is jumping around. This was all a replay of the night before, when our steak was cooking, and the June was texting messages like “NOTIFICATION_ETA_PESSIMISTIC”—a bug that the company would like to clarify it has since rectified.

The salmon’s done at 6:52 p.m., when we’ve already devoured the sides that I’d rushed to assemble in my real oven, since the June only ships with a single rack.

Update: June audited my oven’s data and claims that the salmon finished 31 minutes into cooking—still 3x June’s original estimate—and I left it in longer by mistake. My iOS logs show I did receive a push notification at that time, but that doesn’t account for what the oven itself was conveying. For me, being in the kitchen during this time, it’s impossible to know if this was all my error, or the result of what the oven interface was conveying over that time. More on that below.

I slide a piece of salmon into the June, one of the most advanced ovens ever built. Loaded with a camera, temperature probe, Wi-Fi, and algorithms, it’ll cost you $1,500. It required nearly $30 million in venture capital to create. It was the brainchild of the engineer who brought us the iPhone’s camera and Ammunition, the design firm that gave us Beats headphones.

“We take very hard technologies, AI, deep learning, and lots of sensors, and we apply that to creating a well thought through, simple interface that just makes your life better,” says June cofounder Matt Van Horn, another Apple alum who cofounded Zimride, today known as Lyft. “Our MO is we just want to inspire people to cook more.” It’s a tall order, but one that Van Horn delivers earnestly, the idea being that if cooking required less of us, we’d simply do it more. Yet in buying into the June, the home cook is becoming a consumer rather than a creator. The June asks cooks to put their faith in the fledging startup’s proprietary software getting better, rather than improving their own analog skills—skills that will work on any machine, in any kitchen.

Door closed, the oven knows it’s salmon. I press “salmon,” and the June glows like a space heater, convection fans whirring. In precisely 10 minutes and 38 seconds my salmon will be done, the screen claims. Which seems way too fast, but what do I know? But 10 minutes becomes 20, and 20 fades into 40. It’s almost seven, and still the timer’s ETA is jumping around. This was all a replay of the night before, when our steak was cooking, and the June was texting messages like “NOTIFICATION_ETA_PESSIMISTIC”—a bug that the company would like to clarify it has since rectified.

The salmon’s done at 6:52 p.m., when we’ve already devoured the sides that I’d rushed to assemble in my real oven, since the June only ships with a single rack.

Update: June audited my oven’s data and claims that the salmon finished 31 minutes into cooking—still 3x June’s original estimate—and I left it in longer by mistake. My iOS logs show I did receive a push notification at that time, but that doesn’t account for what the oven itself was conveying. For me, being in the kitchen during this time, it’s impossible to know if this was all my error, or the result of what the oven interface was conveying over that time. More on that below.

“[The] salmon’s incredible,” Van Horn had bragged earlier. Which seemed a stretch to me: “The salmon’s incredible” is what a waiter tells you when somebody at your table can’t eat gluten. Objectively, the fish was cooked to temperature and still moist enough—which you could have done in any oven, really.This salmon had become more distracting to babysit than if I’d just cooked it on my own. This salmon had become a metaphor for Silicon Valley itself. Automated yet distracting. Boastful yet mediocre. Confident yet wrong. Most of all, the June is a product built less for you, the user, and more for its own ever-impending perfection as a platform. When you cook salmon wrong, you learn about cooking it right. When the June cooks salmon wrong, its findings are uploaded, aggregated, and averaged into a June database that you hope will allow all June ovens to get it right the next time. Good thing the firmware updates are installed automatically. . .

Continue reading.

At the link are some screenshots. This is not a product I want.

Later in the article:

But the June’s fussy interface is archetypal Silicon Valley solutionism. Most kitchen appliances are literally one button from their intended function. When you twist the knob of your stove, it fires up. Hit “pulse” on a food processor and it chops. The objects are simple, because the knowledge to use them correctly lives in the user. If you get the oven temperature wrong, or the blend speed off, you simply turn it off and try again. The June attempts to eliminate what you have to know, by adding prompts and options and UI feedback. Slide in a piece of bread to make toast. Would you like your toast extra light, light, medium, or dark? Then you get an instruction: “Toast bread on middle rack.” But where there once was just an on button, you now get a blur of uncertainty: How much am I in control? How much can I expect from the oven? I once sat watching the screen for two minutes, confused as to why my toast wasn’t being made. Little did I realize, there’s a checkmark I had to press—the computer equivalent of “Are you sure you want to delete these photos?”—before browning some bread.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2016 at 11:02 am

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