There was a hubbub around Oral-B’s stand at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday morning as it unveiled its latest smart toothbrush, the Oral-B Genius.
Oral-B has been in the smart toothbrush market for a couple of years, but the new device has “position detection technology” as well as a couple of other slicker design features.
The user places their smartphone in a robust-looking holder on the mirror in front of them. Then they need to fire up the dedicated Oral-B app, position their face in front of their smartphone’s front-facing camera and begin to brush. Motion sensors inside the brush detect the areas being brushed.
As the user brushes they can watch the screen in front of them to essentially play the game of brushing their teeth. A little circle with segments represents their mouth, incentivizing the user to brush for the correct amount of time in each area of their mouth by making the colour of each segment fade as they go. Oral-B says this is based on the insight that up to 80% of people spend an insufficient amount of time brushing at least one zone inside their mouth.
Users need to sync their phone with the app around every two weeks in order to save their data to the app and check their progress, which can also be shared with their dentist. Oral-B only receives aggregated data about the 6.4 million brushing sessions tracked by the app since launch two years ago.
I chatted with the director of Oral-B global, Michael Cohen-Dumani, as we took a tour around the stand and watched people attempt a brushing challenge to see whether, without the help of the app, people were brushing each area of their mouths for long enough.
The potential for Procter & Gamble
Perhaps the most interesting take-away from my visit to the stand wasn’t just the technology (although the new travel case that comes with the Oral-B Genius, that serves to charge both the toothbrush and the user’s phone via USB was pretty smart) but the potential Oral-B parent company Procter & Gamble has to make more of its products “smart” and to forge tie-ups with other companies.
Cohen-Dumani explained since releasing the Oral-B application programming interface (API) and software development kit last year, a number of other companies have already partnered with the company to produce additional services for the app and marketing tie-ups.
People using the Oral-B app can brush while listening to Spotify, for example. They can read the headlines, thanks to a tie-up with Association Press. There’s also a weather app.
Meanwhile, Ergo Direkt, a health insurance company in Germany, is looking at rewarding customers for brushing well with free replacement toothbrush heads. Cohen-Dumani said Oral-B is also working with a Erste Bank, which is looking at rewarding children for brushing with small monetary rewards to save up towards big-ticket items like a bike or a gaming console.
Some people might think one of the barriers to the smart toothbrush succeeding (beyond the $200 price-tag for the latest device, which launches in July) might be that people are worried about taking their smartphones into the bathroom and the potential damage and hygiene issues. But Cohen-Dumani said Oral-B’s research found 75% of people already bring their phone into the bathroom, which opens up the possibilities for even more P&G products that sit in the bathroom — and P&G manufactures everything from soap to tissue — have smart applications attached.
Cohen-Dumani says with smart applications, P&G can demonstrate the value consumers receive by spending more on their teeth. Most people spend less than 45-seconds brushing their teeth “and are expecting miracles,” but the average brushing session using the Oral-B app is 2-minutes, 28 seconds, he explained.
The app has helped people “reset” bad habits, said Cohen-Dumani. He imagines seeing more smart innovations in other areas of P&G’s business too, which could get people paying more attention to its hundreds brands spanning all sorts of everyday routines, from laundry to hygiene. Braun, for example, has been developing an app that uses the front-facing smartphone camera to help people style their facial hair.
He told us he sees the smart toothbrush product unveiled at Mobile World Congress as just the “tip of the iceberg,” for Oral-B and P&G.
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