Internet of Toothbrushes: Sonicare Pipes Data Back to Philips

Consumer Electronics Firm Joins IoT Movement with Bluetooth-Enabled Toothbrush

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The health and wellness division at consumer electronics firm Philips made its data-generating Sonicare for Kids electronic toothbrush available just weeks ago, and as is the case for many firms exploring "internet of things" technology, it has already been refined. The first product update came about when the firm realized a mobile game app connected to the brush was actually too engaging.

The app turns the Bluetooth-enabled brush into a controller for a game featuring fuzzy creatures called Sparklys. "If you remember the Tamagotchi, it's a little bit like that," said Boon Lai, VP of marketing for Philips Health and Wellness, referring to the digital pet toy that was all the rage in the '90s.

Kids score points in the Philips game by brushing all four quadrants of their teeth for two minutes, the standard recommended by most dentists. The points allow them to feed their Sparkly or customize their colors.

As it turned out, children using the toothbrush couldn't tear themselves away from the app even after they finished brushing. "Because they love the game and they interacted so much with the app they didn't go to bed right away," said Mr. Lai, a nine-year veteran at Philips. In response, the app was altered so Sparkly topples over in exhaustion soon after his brushing adventure is over.

Calling the way in which he and his team operate "a test and learn environment," Mr. Lai explained that the process of developing the new product and updating it has been responsive to quantitative data as well as qualitative feedback from parents. The Sonicare for Kids brush has been available since the end of August from Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart, but Philips said it is too early to reveal app use data or sales numbers.

"We can actually learn a lot through the data and analysis about how consumers interact with our product," said Mr. Lai, adding that Philips also gathers the use data to evaluate in aggregate and spot use trends or potential problems.

Philips isn't the first to develop a data-generating toothbrush, but the fact that the maker of the Sonicare electric brush is investing in internet of things technology is another sign the IoT fringe is meeting the consumer product mainstream.

In 2013, startup firm Beam Technologies introduced its own connected toothbrush. At the time, Beam co-founder Alex Frommeyer told Ad Age the focus of the company was not consumer electronics product development or healthcare in the traditional sense. "People often refer to us as a toothbrush company, but we're not. We're actually not interested in toothbrushes at all. We're interested in health data," he said.

The firm is still making its mobile-app-synced Beam Brush, and in May launched a loyalty program through a U.S.-wide network of dentists that awards discounts on dental-care based on points generated when using their smart brushes.

Mr. Lai said Philips is trying to stay ahead of trends. Expect an insurance industry connection in the future, too. "That's definitely in the pipeline of the products that we'll have in the future," he said.

The company works with dental professionals, some of whom sell its products to patients, and will hold an oral systemic health symposium next month "to grow that dialogue with these influencers," Mr. Lai said.

Up next: a connected toothbrush for the adult set. Whether it, too, will involve a game has yet to be determined, said Mr. Lai, adding that Philips will consider insights from dental pros when developing the product. "It's still a work in progress," he said.

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CLARIFICATION: After this article was published, Philips said the company has no plans to develop insurance-related products and that Mr. Lai was speaking only of general trends.

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