Oral-B, the ubiquitous name in dental care, is launching what it calls the first connected toothbrush. While Oral-B is bringing some added functionality to the table, I actually tried a connected toothbrush about a year ago from a startup called Beam Technologies and at CES a French firm called Kolibree showed off its own connected toothbrush. So it’s far from the first.
Oral-B says that the brush has a Bluetooth radio and will send your brushing data to you via an iOS (s AAPL) or Android (s GOOG) app, but it will also accept programming so you (or your dentist) can tell the brush where you want to spend the most time. The app also will show you news and weather or whatever while you are brushing, making those two minutes fly by. This would be so much cooler if the brush played the information while you brushed — the way my daughter’s musical toothbrushes play Selena Gomez songs.
The Oral-B interactive toothbrush will be available in limited quantities in Germany this spring, with global rollouts in June 2014. The Oral-B app will be available for iOS in May, and in Android in August. The Oral-B smart brush will cost up to $219 for the highest-end smart brush.
Do I need this?
I’ve tested connected toothbrushes in the past, but my Philips Sonicare is the highest-tech toothbrush I currently need. When I used the $50 Beam brush, I had data streaming to my phone, but absent a pressure sensor (which the Oral-B has) I didn’t get much out of the experience. I thought it might be useful for tracking my daughter’s toothbrushing, but that wasn’t worth the premium.
And while the CEO of Beam and I discussed getting data to dentists, my own dentist was skeptical of the technology when I asked him. He said that he’d rather someone brush their mouth well in all four quadrants than focus on any one area. Anything that helps people brush longer was great for him, but he didn’t think that there was value in the data. Insurance firms might beg to differ: Knowing when policyholders brush would be super-valuable information — though people who are a bit more casual about their dental care might not want to share their brushing habits.
In short, a connected toothbrush, even a fancier one with a few more sensors, isn’t the item I’d want to spend my connected home budget on. Using a brush with a revolving brush head and making sure you brush for two minutes all over your mouth may be boring, but it’s the most effective clean.
Eventually this sort of functionality will be built into the cost of a toothbrush, but until that time, I can’t see a clear health or convenience reason for splurging on such a product. Simply adding connectivity and data tracking capability to a product isn’t a viable strategy for building a truly beneficial consumer experience. Although I expect a lot of brands to launch silly goods like this to ride the Internet of Things bandwagon, I can’t wait until we’re out of the add-connectivity-for-connectivity’s-sake stage of this evolution.
My hunch is we’ll look back at these brushes and realize they were the Pets.com of the internet of things.