While homeowners and venture investors are still trying to figure out how to automate the entire house, consumers are still primarily buying one-off devices that fit a need or single-use case. With that in mind, the founders of June have decided to focus on adding intelligence to a single device—the countertop oven. A traditional in-wall oven can range from about $1,000 to $3,000 (or more) depending on the size and brand. June's runs up at $1,500.
Yes, $1,500 is a lot of money to pay for a new cooking appliance, but the company is hoping it will appeal to both serious cooks and the tech-friendly, early-adopter crowd who may not know how to cook without the aid of an algorithm. The hope is that they will be so entranced by the oven's features that they will plunk down $95 to hold their pre-order spot for the spring 2016 delivery. With $7 million in backing from Foundry Group, First Round Capital, Lerer Ventures, and Founders Fund Angel, the company aims to create the hottest new kitchen gadget since the microwave.
The June Intelligent Oven has several features a regular oven lacks. Founders Matt Van Horn and Nikhil Bhogal have gone far beyond the typical smart object ethos of "put some Wi-Fi on it," as consumers have seen with smart refrigerators. Instead, Van Horn and Bhogal have added a powerful GPU processor, connectivity, a camera, a thermometer that attaches to the oven and can be inserted into the food inside, and sensors in the oven's feet that essentially turn the whole device into a scale.
That’s a lot of sensor and computing power to pack into a device that has stayed relatively unchanged for the last several decades. As Van Horn puts it, the last big kitchen appliance breakthrough that gained mainstream adoption was probably the microwave. Everything else from the all-in-one breakfast sandwich maker to the George Foreman grill has been adopted by a few, and usually relegated to the deepest recesses of a cabinet after the initial fun wore off.
CEO Van Horn and CTO Bhogal want to change the way people cook by taking away some of the guesswork. The camera inside the oven not only streams video of the food cooking inside to an app, but incorporates machine learning to identify what type of food is placed in the oven. From there the June oven uses the weight sensors in its feet to calculate the amount of food inside, the integrated temperature probe to tell how cold the food is, and calculates an ideal cooking time and range for that hunk of meat or batch of cookies.
That’s why the June oven needs the powerful GPU processor more likely to be found inside a gaming console than a humble oven. It’s performing some pretty intense calculations from the moment you put a roast in to the time you take it out. The camera can also detect what the ideal roast chicken should look like and notify you when it gets there, while also tracking the internal temperature of the food. Beyond its computerized smarts, the oven also has several high-tech upgrades to its more traditional components, such as a carbon nanotube-based heating element that can pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees in just four minutes.
The company has also redesigned certain elements, such as the construction materials and location of the oven's convection fans, to create an appliance with an edge over its competitors, even without the computerized features. Still, those computerized features make June's oven a truly innovative product that goes beyond traditional appliance vendors attempts, like a fridge that tweets or that has a soda stream integrated into the water dispenser.
In the effort to bring precise data to the cooking process, the company is reminiscent of Meld, a startup that is building a smarter oven knob and thermometer combo that can help cooks figure out the perfect recipe for various stove top actions, such as poaching an egg or making candy. Other startups have tried to make smarter ovens, mostly by adding connected thermometers in an attempt to give customers more control over the cooking process— no easy feat when even the best ovens can be somewhat imprecise about their internal temperature.
Still, the question remains— will people spend $1,500 on a counter top oven that will only fit 11-by-16-inch trays, which are slightly smaller than the traditional half cookie sheet? Yes, that’s enough for most baking, roasts, and casseroles, but it’s not enough for a Thanksgiving turkey, which means you can’t replace your old oven and reclaim cabinet space if you bought a June. It’s also a rather large device to pop onto a countertop, which makes Van Horn's claim that the oven is perfect for small kitchens suspect.
However, since the appliance won't hit the market until next spring, both early adopters who don't know how to roast a chicken and accomplished foodies will have plenty of time to debate the merits of the June oven before coughing up the cash. Having seen the oven in action, I'll be having that same debate with myself.
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