have you bought a microwave recently?
if you're lucky, you haven't. you're still using a microwave from the 1990's or something like that, and it still works just fine. after all, how can a microwave be made any better? you put stuff in, and the water in the stuff heats up. there really isn't much innovation to be done that wasn't already done half a century ago.
there is no growth to be had in selling microwaves. nobody is rushing out to buy the hot new microwave. there is no TikTok trending microwave with revolutionary new smart features. the only reason anyone would ever consider buying a microwave is because they moved into a new place that didn't already have one, or their old one broke. you probably don't even look at what the box says, because they're all the same, and they all have that "popcorn" button which doesn't work for some reason.
it turns out, however, that things have not always been this way. back before everyone owned a microwave, there was actual development and competition that led to microwaves getting better. the only really useful feature was the addition of a moisture sensor, which allowed it to actually pop popcorn automatically without burning it, or defrost things without cooking them, or perfectly bake a potato.
however, as the 2000s rolled along, a problem occurred. you see, everyone had a microwave, and there was no way to make one that was actually better than their old one. this meant that nobody had a reason to buy a microwave anymore. if everyone suddenly no longer needs to buy your product, your company has a big problem. of course, very few companies would sell only a microwave and nothing else. most companies just focused on other hot new electronic gadgets. still, having a microwave on offer was nice, so they just contracted out to someone else to make those microwaves, and slapped their name on the box at the end.
after a decade of this, there was only one company left making microwaves. this company, Midea, doesn't really sell microwaves under their own name, because all of them suck. they only slap their name onto actually good products, because they don't want to be tied to how absolutely dogshit their microwaves are. they work fine at first, but break after a year or so of normal usage, and are designed to be completely unrepairable to stop idiots from electrocuting themselves on the high voltage transformers inside.1
somewhere along the line of all this margin squeezing, someone had the idea to get rid of the moisture sensor from the cheap models. but instead of removing the now-useless popcorn and potato buttons, they just left the buttons on there, and made them kinda half work. of course, they don't work very well. you can usually find if a microwave has a sensor because it will brag about it on the box. this is the only feature that defines the cheapest Midea microwaves from the slightly less cheap ones. but they're all cheap and they all suck.
what can we learn from this? i don't know. capitalism will destroy everything it touches. there are only three2 models of microwave in the entire world and all of them suck ass. just go live in the woods and eat moss or something.
much like the microwave, the multicooker was invented earlier than you might have thought. in fact, the earliest multicookers were invented a whole century ago, promoted in the U.K. as a way to use newfangled electricity to cook, instead of old fashioned — and expensive to run — gas stoves.
perhaps the most famous modern multicooker, the Instant Pot, was first released in 2010. it could replace a slow cooker, pressure cooker, and rice cooker, all in a single package. it could even act as a hot plate or steamer if you didn't have a stove handy. the company never marketed much, but slowly gained traction through word-of-mouth and online recipe groups. some even likened the fans of it to a sort of cult, due to their sheer devotion to the product. nowhere left to go but up, right?
but while 1920 marked the start of the multicooker, it was not until 2020 that the multicooker truly became a global phenomenon. the COVID-19 pandemic led to a whole lot of people being stuck at home, wanting a more convenient way to cook. basically every household in the world ended up with an Instant Pot or one of the many similar products available from other companies.
notice something familiar happening?
in 2023, Instant Brands, the company that owned the Instant Pot brand along with some other brands of kitchen products filed for bankruptcy. they couldn't keep up with all the debt they'd picked up while growing, and the growth suddenly stopped. everyone had a multicooker, so there was nobody left to sell one to. and since the product was simple and durable without any consumable parts, there was no more money left to be made. it was simply too good of a product to survive.
because Instant Brands had no other hot new products to lean onto, they were well and truly screwed. infinite growth simply can't last if you have a finite amount of people in the world to buy them. eventually, the cancer kills its host.
while it's likely that the Instant Pot brand will survive, it's also likely that the quality of these multicookers as a product category will start to sharply fall in the coming years, just as microwaves did in the 2000's. Midea also happens to supply them as well; it's only a matter of time before the right costs are cut to ensure a product which barely lasts past the end of the warranty period.
1. don't play with microwave transformers. they're one of the most common things to kill electronics hobbyists, because they're super dangerous and really easy to get. and if you ignore this warning, remember to add a dead man's switch so you don't hurt the people who find your electrocuted body.
2. Panasonic still makes some of their own microwaves, actually. they also cost a ton of money and still break quickly, but at least they use less electricity before they break?