A bubbly visit to SodaStream’s Innovation Lab leads to delicious discoveries
To start off with a disclaimer, this writer is a huge fan of soda water (as well as other tasty beverages) and owns a SodaStream sparkling water maker.
When thinking about the Internet of Things and intelligent device sector, it seems like everyday new types of devices are getting a new lease on life as they turn from simply being functional to “smart.” Being innovators in their field, it follows that SodaStream is not far behind in developing their own ideas to bring in the next generation of drink makers. Moving beyond the basics of carbonating water and making homemade flavored drinks, SodaStream is gearing up for the release of their biggest leap in years, aptly naming their device the MIX.
Founded in 1903, the Israel-based drink machine makers operate six manufacturing facilities across the globe. Their various lines of products are sold at 70 thousand locations in 46 countries. They sold 3 million units last year globally.
In hopes of learning more about what drives the team at SodaStream, Geektime was invited to visit their Innovation Lab, located near Ben Gurion Airport, 15 minutes outside of Tel Aviv.
Exploring the design philosophy
Upon entering the lab, it is clear that the company is taking both the technical and aesthetic elements of their project very seriously. The space has a stylish industrial feel to it, with the flavor engineers sitting in an adjunct section across from the mechanical design team. Preceding the MIX, the SodaStream Waters and SodaStream Sparkling Gourmet lines of flavors were developed here at the Innovation Lab.
I sat down with their Chief Innovation and Design Officer Yaron Kopel to understand what is shaping their development, not only in the design but as a part of the overall user experience as well.
Kopel explains that when he started his relationship with SodaStream, it was very important for them to be on the same page with their goals for the project. “When I agreed with Daniel Birnbaum to build this Innovation Lab, it was to bring to life a simple philosophy,” he says. “My philosophy of innovations is to close the gap between the ideal user experience with the current one. As a general rule, every designer has to ask themselves this question.”
They focused on user experience as the source of their development, letting that guide how the final product came into formation. Kopel cites that fact that their users are looking for greater levels of customization to make the devices feel like more of a representation of themselves as they choose their own features. He says that advances in technology have made personalization far easier to implement than before.
New innovations and technologies
In thinking about which features would be added to the new model, Kopel says that the innovation came from within the team as well as listening to consumers. While noting that building the new device for one-handed operation was intuitive, hearing from consumers that they wanted to be able to mix more types of beverages than just water was a big step in branching out to new directions.
In approaching the more nuts and bolts side of the process, Kopel lays out some of the more practical concerns. Mapping out the idea itself, and determining what the price should be and how the experience should play out for the customer are all key elements, he says. The challenge here as he puts it is to, “Add to homes appliances that they didn’t have before.”
Speaking about the advantages that they see in their devices, Kopel says that, “We come with a lot of benefits like sustainability and cost savings, but it’s a real do-it-yourself type of product.”
While the SodaStream sets have generally focused just on injecting varying levels carbonation to transform water into different kinds of sodas using the flavor capsules, the MIX introduces a number of new elements that could change how users view their devices.
The most prominent feature is the digital display interface where the users enter the type of drink they want to make. This includes options for making basic soda, mixing juices and even cocktails. The machine comes with a number of popular cocktail recipes for drinks like the Cosmopolitan.
Along with the input from the display where the user can also add in their own programmable drinks and save their favorites, the team has added an IoT solution by connecting the device to an app. Recognizing that the process of ordering the CO2 was a pain for the customers who would have to bring it to the store for a replacement, the device can send a message to the app when the levels are running low, and the user can order a new one directly from the app.
The digital experience brings with it a combination of new carbonation and mixing possibilities with the new machine-washable blender head. The technology that regulates how the drinks are blended and how much carbonation is infused provides for a more delicate taste for different types of beverages.
When I was given a sample glass of orange juice that had been lightly carbonated and briefly mixed, the taste was delicate, delicious, and almost fluffy without feeling overly bubbly. Another note was that in comparison with how I used to drink homemade carbonated orange juice when I was young, was how there was no taste of the juice being watered down by the addition of soda water: a very pleasant surprise for sure.
Taking soda social: bringing others into the MIX
Beyond the advances in the device itself, the company is counting on the accompanying app to play a key role in adding value for the users. The app allows users to upload their favorite recipes not only to the MIX’s memory, but also to the network for other users to try and enjoy.
The MIX app lets users from around the world take part in a social community of sharing their drink recipes. They can upload them to the app and share them via social media. This gives the users a wider range of cocktails and drinks that they now have the ability to make in the comfort of their own homes.
What’s bubbling up next
While the MIX is only expected to launch in the second half of 2016, I was already interested in finding out where they saw the next round of development leading to. Kopel told me that they were likely to continue expanding their range of flavors. Additionally, a roll out of dishwasher safe bottles could be in the offing as well.
Outside of those hints, there were no other indications of where they might be headed with the next upgrade.
My take on the MIX
The MIX marks a major jump in innovation for SodaStream. Over the past few years the company has launched a new version of their soda makers every year, each one building on the success of the one that came before it.
In adding the digital interface and connecting their users to a wider community of cold beverage enthusiasts, the company is moving to reach a wider potential market with this new offering. The app is both visually pleasing and functional. Whether or not they will be able to grow the social network of users will likely depend on how many people end up purchasing the device. However, based on the global love of sharing pictures of food and personal creations, the odds are on SodaStream’s side that this venture into the world of social will pay off.
It is worth noting that this device like many others in the digital world does not come cheap. Kopel says that the price is expected to come out somewhere between the $250 to $300 mark for the new units. While the user will definitely receive a solid value for the money, especially when you factor in the potential savings from not buying bottled drinks, this higher price point poses the risk that some people could be put off from making this purchase.
The one issue that I as a user of an older school SodaStream drink maker have always had is that I need to filter the water before use and either make ice or stick the filtered water into the fridge for a while before I can make more drinks. Perhaps the next generation of devices can have a water intake like the Tami4 filtration coolers that can either chill or heat water. I know that adding this kind of feature would make me a more constant user of my SodaStream.
Towards the end of the visit at around 11:30, my hosts invited me to try a Campari and orange juice cocktail. Never one to miss an opportunity, I finally left in the cab back to Tel Aviv smiling and excited for the launch of this great new innovation in delicious drink making.