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Interactive dining tables – the family meal of the future?

Picture the scene: It is the 1990s, and a family is gathered around the dinner table to discuss the events of the day. The landline rings and the teenage girl leaps up to answer it, to which her father responds ‘leave it! We are eating’. Fast forward to the 2000s, and the Nokia 3310 means that the same scene plays out without anyone having to leave the table; ‘stop texting! We are eating’. In 2014 the story has changed more drastically. The teenage daughter sends a ‘sorry I’m running late’ message to the family’s WhatsApp group, whilst the rest of the family sit around the dinner table (if it is a special occasion, or wherever they lay their hat if not) each of them engrossed in the 4inch screen they hold in their hands. With the concept of a family dinner changing so drastically in recent years, and the focus switching from face to face interaction with the people around us to online interaction with everyone else, where will this movement take us to next? Perhaps the interactive dining table could be the answer.

Restaurants like Inamo St James in London, and Ebony in Dubai, have already introduced the world to the interactive dining experience. Projected onto the table from above the diners’ heads, customers can find out the specials, order their food and ask for the bill, without the need to interact with waiting staff at any point (you can request a full waiter service if you would prefer, although one might argue that you’ve come to the wrong place if you’re not going to enjoy the pièce de résistance). In addition to these practical aspects, customers can update their Facebook status from the table, change the ‘tablecloth’ (essentially the background of the screen) and those dining in Ebony are able to send messages to diners at other tables, all whilst watching their food be prepared via a webcam feed from the kitchen. Currently a novel idea, Inamo founder Noel Hunwick stresses that it solves the problem of slow service without adding too much to running costs. Now, with interactive coffee table releases from Ideum and others, the experience can be replicated in the home.

With a user interface that supports up to 60 touch points, a family of five would have to enlist the help of their dog to take full advantage of the capability. At the time of purchase the customer can select a Windows 7, 8 or Android 4.4 KitKat OS, as well as various add ons. The plug in and play table then operates in much the same way as a smartphone with the same software. Definitely a talking point, the family meal could see itself coming full circle, with everyone seated around the Ideum Platform (it’s built to ensure that its surface can handle spills), updating their Facebook status or watching YouTube videos as they enjoy their meal. They would still, arguably, be ignoring their family, but doing so in closer proximity than before. And maybe after dinner they could clear away the plates and little Simon could play a song on the table’s keyboard, or he and Mum could enjoy a game of virtual chess.

Currently they sell to a range of customers including museums, universities and increasingly to individual, personal users; whether or not these devices will take off will only become clear with time. Given that they start from $8000 it seems unlikely they will be in homes across the globe by Christmas. But, as with the smartphone, a notion that seemed wildly futuristic only a few years ago is now considered the norm. Music venues, once illuminated by a thousand lighters, now glow with the light of a thousand smartphones. It remains to be seen how long before the humble table undergoes a similar revolution.

Iona Jackson is a Research Executive at GfK Market Opportunities & Innovation and can be contacted at iona.jackson@gfk.com.

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