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Is My Toothbrush a Wearable Computer?

By Richard Fouts | December 03, 2013 | 5 Comments

Now that there are more non-human devices connected to the Internet than people, the Internet of Things rivals the Internet of People.  As these things transmit usage data, it opens up a goldmine of opportunity for digital marketers.

In fact, one of our recent Gartner predictions highlighted the coming revenue influence originating from wearable computing.  Though our use cases focused on devices we literally wear, like smartwatches, computer embedded in clothing, glasses or contact lenses, co-author Julie Hopkins and I also include wearables such as cars, refrigerators and toothbrushes.

It started when Julie asked me if her Buick constituted a wearable. It’s a fair question. Automobiles are indeed something we frequently – wear.  And as a wearable, Julie’s Buick monitors her behavior – while she’s wearing it – which it analyzes to provide actionable advice. It won’t be long before her Buick (which already has human-like qualities through voice-driven GPS wearables) say things like “… based on your past 90 day driving habits, I’ll need new tires in February versus the planned date of June.”  (These same driving habits might also get leaked to State Farm).


Now Julie has a decision to make. Improve her driving habits and defer the cost of new tires (not to mention a potential insurance premium hike) or sustain her current driving behavior (which she says is a lot more fun) and incur the cost. To influence her decision, her Buick downloads specific guidelines it gets from the dealer to influence her decision towards cost deferral.

This scenario, where cars record driving behavior and warn us of unnecessary tire wear, is close. And it continues after we park and go upstairs (where our connected refrigerator says “based on your current eating behavior, you’re on track to lose 10 pounds by your sister’s wedding”).  

Then there’s my $50 Beam Brush, which syncs with my smartphone to record brushing time (data that can be tracked and shared with dentist and my insurance company). Yes, Beam Brush is managing an insurance company pilot to test consumer reaction to receiving incentives, such as lower rates, in exchange for data. Of course, the same data could be used to support a rate increase.


The data marketers get from my sensor-equipped things also helps them plan. For example, Susan Stribling of Coca Cola told AdAge recently, “We’re able to attain a significant amount of data which allows us opportunities to leverage new product ideas. (Coca-Cola has 12,000 data collecting devices in burger joints, move theatres and college campuses which feed usage data back to Coke).

Of course, there’s that nagging issue that still lingers. Whose data is this, anyway? What do you think?

Leave a Comment


  • The toothbrush is not a wearable computer, it’s an empathic computer I would say. There’s a whole class of connected devices in- on and around our human body that have the ability to know about what we do and who we are. Our context. This enables empathy and can drive the creation of systems of engagement. So “empathic things” like smart tattoos, toothbrushes, the connected car, enchanted objects etc are not the same as wearables, but wearables and toothbrushes have the same family.

  • Crates says:

    I tend to agree with Dr. von Doom above. While there are quite a few types of portable “computers” these days, and the lines are getting blurred from desktop to tablet to phablet to phone to ancillary and auxiliary accessories, there’s still a distinct market of truly “wearable computers” that is a separate niche from these other items.

    A car may contain a computer, but it is not a computer. The same goes for your toothbrush. Great headline, though.

    What I would term a wearable computer might include a cell phone on your hip, wired up to a bluetooth headset or Google Glass: very specific hardware designed to interface directly with your three primary senses — touch, sight and hearing — with a very non-specific application; i.e. usable for a variety of things. Wearables of this variety have existed for no less than two decades now; it’s just that recently, they have become far more mainstream and generally awesome.

  • Crates says:

    On a side note, Wikipedia defines a wearable computer as “miniature electronic devices that are worn by the bearer under, with or on top of clothing”. This (more or less) agrees with my definition above.

    Having said that, if you are wearing your toothbrush under or on top of your clothing, you are probably doing it wrong.

  • Richard says:

    Thanks guys for the responses. The lines are blurred, but sounds like you’re saying we have two distrinct categories. True wearable computers, and The Internet of Things. Wearables are literally worn on the user’s person, the second category is more a data exchange between the user and a “thing” to help improve the personal ROI of the thing. Is that fair?

  • As noted in the article, making the customer feel at ease can also require an empathetic and flexible approach that goes beyond evidencing compliance with functional requirements.I have been wowed by the relationship-building skills and customer-centric approach of salespeople selling solutions (not always tech) that could not fly (and vice versa)..To successfully partner with prospects or clients in the context of their organisational constraints to educate them as to your fitness to help them meet their long-term goals is a great achievement..The client is king (or queen).