It’s Your Stove on Line One

For the last year I’ve been listening to the evangelists of the “smart” home telling me that pretty soon my appliances will be at my virtual fingertips no matter where the physical me is. But they couldn’t show it to me — at least not in any form that looked remotely usable.

Last Friday the future presented itself to me in the form of the TMIO Connect IO Intelligent Oven.

It wasn’t at an electronics show. It was at a home and garden show. No industry-changing technology in sight. Instead the Connect IO was on display in the booth of a small local appliance dealer, sandwiched between HGTV celebrities like the Junk Market Girls (how to turn old junk into new junk) and Jon “Walls That Wow” Fong (how to make instant junk).

“The concept is that dinner is ready when you are,” says TMIO sales rep Barbara Baugh.

There are two slick things about the Connect IO.

The first is that you can program it from the oven’s touch screen, a Web browser or a phone. Over the phone you can send instructions from the keypad or simply speak them. To use the telephone commands, you have to enter a password. You can also send instant messages from the touch screen. (“Dinner’s Ready!! comes to mind for teenagers whose ears are plugged by iPods and cell phones.)

The company emphasizes the phone connection in its visuals and copy. TMIO’s founder David Mansberry holds the patent for the controls, described as a “remote control cooking device.” Many years ago he tried to sell a similar control system to NASA. Mansberry built the first Connect IO prototype in 1994, but until always-on Internet became ubiquitous, the concept wasn’t a practical one.

The second is that the double oven unit has built in refrigeration in the lower oven so that you can keep food cold until it’s time to cook. The oven also handles multiple steps, too, like defrost, brown and then bake. You can program it weeks in advance — for example, if you’re away you can program dinner to be ready when you get home.

If you’re delayed, simply call the oven and reprogram it.

The remote connection lets the oven diagnose malfunctions, notify the repair service and order the needed parts. Pointing the way to a future of mass-market custom-tailored appliances, Connect IO also features a “Sabbath Mode” for observant Jews. The oven is preprogrammed with the time of sunset and turns off the cooking at just the right time.

Connect IO comes with built-in WiFi and Ethernet connections ready to plug into your home network. The oven gets top marks for green construction and operation and is built entirely in the U.S. It’s been on the market for about a year and retails for $6,500 to $7,500.

Baugh is non-committal on when the Connect IO will call you to check in and see if you’re on schedule.