When I first read about the Colgate Connect, a $99.95 AI-powered toothbrush available only at the Apple Store, it sounded so unnecessary that it was almost amusing. Who would want to turn their bathroom into a tech hub?
A lot of people, apparently. This year, the Internet of Things is expected to surpass mobile phones as the largest category of connected devices, driven largely by consumers, who account for 63% of the market. The number of connected “things” in use worldwide increased 31% last year and will balloon to 20.4 billion by 2020; they range from Hiku, a chunky fridge magnet that integrates with your grocery shopping lists, to Smalt, a salt shaker you can control with your smartphone. Those interested in improving their personal hygiene can buy devices like Flosstime, the “world’s first automated floss dispenser,” or even set up a whole smart bathroom.
A lot of these connected devices seem useful, such as a lock that eliminates the need to carry around keys or a Bluetooth tag that helps you keep track of your wallet. But others beg the question: Should this thing be smart? In the case of the toothbrush, I wasn’t the first to ask the question. What could a toothbrush do with artificial intelligence? I imagined it yelling at me to put down my bedtime Kit-Kat, or, like too many health and fitness apps, constantly nagging me to share my brushing stats on Facebook.
But Colgate has pared down the connected aspect, testifying to the digital savvy that won the brand a Gifted ranking in L2’s Digital IQ Index: Personal Care. Like a virtual dentist, the toothbrush’s main goal is to analyze your brushing habits and show you where you need improvement. The device doesn’t have any kind of voice function, nor are you ever prompted to share your brushing stats on social media (either because the gadget is targeted at kids, or because its makers realized that no one would ever do that). As a result, the experience feels reassuringly low-tech.
The toothbrush has various modes of instruction, from a pirate game intended to lure you into brushing for two minutes to a more intensive coaching session based on a 3D map of your mouth. Whatever mode you opt for, the brush’s accelerometer tracks your movements in real time and transmits that data via Bluetooth to the connected app on your phone. I found myself consistently gravitating back to the 3D coaching mode, with its easy-to-read interface and step-by-step instructions. The section you’re supposed to brush appears yellow; as you brush, it fades to white, and a percentage icon specifies exactly how much of that section you have left to brush.
Theoretically, at least. For some reason, the “coach” was often unable to sense when I brushed the two sections at the front of my mouth. But I found something unexpectedly reassuring about having a coach by my side, quantifying my progress. Maybe this is why smart devices have become so popular with consumers. We’re not paying for artificial intelligence as a gimmicky concept; we’re paying for the certainty that it provides.
This certainty could also make IoT devices the future of health care. One estimate suggests that by 2020, 80% of doctor visits and other “consumer service interactions” in the health care industry will use IoT and other analytics services. In ten years, will visiting the dentist be replaced by pressing the button on a toothbrush?