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Is a Toothbrush Really the Most Exciting Thing at CES?

The "world's first connected toothbrush" is getting a lot of press, but who actually wants to sync their toothbrush to their smartphone anyway?
January 6, 2014, 5:37pm

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a chance to get a glimpse of the technologies of the near future; the awesome gadgets and gizmos you could soon get your hands on, for a price. This year’s four-day event kicks off in Las Vegas tomorrow, and there’s a lot of buzz around the products that will be on show. Of all the innovative creations set to be unveiled, what’s one of the most hyped so far? A toothbrush.

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I’ve seen French company Kolibree's “smart toothbrush” mentioned across the blogosphere, described as “one of the most intriguing launches at this year's show,” and included in round-ups of this year’s anticipated highlights. It’s not any toothbrush, of course; it’s “the world’s first connected electric toothbrush.” But I still find it hard to believe that this is the most exciting tech we have to look forward to this year. I sure hope not.

Set to launch towards the end of the year, the toothbrush works like a regular electric toothbrush, except it also connects to a mobile app via Bluetooth and records “every brushing.” Basically, it tells you how often you brush, how long you’ve brushed for, and whether you’ve hit the hard-to-reach places in your mouth.

The idea is that by tracking your dental hygiene, you’ll get better at it. Because, as Kolibree write on their website, “Let’s face the reality! Usually we are not the best to keep clean teeth.” (Speak for yourself.) You can even connect other toothbrushes to the app, so you can keep track of your whole family’s teeth-cleaning progress—if you buy each of your kids one of the $99-$200 brushes, that is.

Via YouTube/Loic Cessot

CES always seems to bring out these sort of “wow look, a random everyday object—but connected!” kind of products, and they inevitably get a disproportionate amount of hype. Remember the HAPIfork from last year? The “smart fork” that measures how fast you eat ended up plastered across the media as if it were the greatest invention since the internet. What good is your smartphone anyway, if it won’t wirelessly connect with your silverware? Or, indeed, your toothbrush?

This kind of coverage likely stems from the fact that we love to see something new and a bit quirky. It’s all very well talking about the latest advances in consumer tech products we’re already familiar with, but that’s not as exciting as something we’ve never seen before, even if it is a bit of a gimmick. A 4K TV is still a TV. The “world’s first connected electric toothbrush” is a world-first, guys.

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Additionally, the Kolibree toothbrush plays into our current obsession with measuring everything we do. Wearable tech is set to be a huge trend at CES, but there are only so many gadgets you can take with you on a jog. The toothbrush pushes the whole “quantified self” concept into new terrain, and so both capitalises on a current trend and stands out from the crowd.

It’s also pretty much made for widespread press coverage. It’s not too techie so it’s easy to explain, and because it’s based on something we all (hopefully) use everyday, we can quickly relate to it. It probably doesn’t hurt that Kolibree put together a nice clear press release and a glossy how-it-works video. Similar clever PR tactics no doubt also account for HAPIfork inexplicably being featured in the news again this month, a year after it was actually a story.

But just because something is novel doesn’t mean it’s really interesting, or clever, or useful at all. I’d almost guarantee that you won’t see many people using “connected” toothbrushes anytime soon. I’ve written before about how calling something “smart” doesn’t automatically make it so, and I’m afraid the toothbrush could be a victim to that mindset. While the company claims in their promo video that “Kolibree helps you outsmart your dentist,” the truth is that it doesn’t do much more than you could with a regular toothbrush, a stopwatch, and maybe a mirror. Or alternatively, just that common sense you've hopefully gained after decades of brushing practice.

Now, show me a brush that could track your brushing and then fix the problem—then my dentist can worry.

Top image via Kolibree

@VickiTurk