What makes a technology catch on and endure? This year’s CES brought us a deluge of dubious innovations, including a Bluetooth toaster, a robotic suitcase and a toothbrush that er, livestreams a video of your mouth to your smartphone.
There’s been a few genuinely promising innovations too. For instance, the Playbrush, a small rubber device that fits onto the end of a toothbrush, connects to your phone and gamifies tooth brushing for kids.
Then of course there’s Amazon Alexa and Google Home, which have officially moved into the mainstream and into our homes this holiday season, amusing and infuriating thousands of us in equal measure.
But of all the questionable, confusing innovations that are now within my grasp, it is L’Oréal’s judgmental hairbrush that irritates me the most. Why do I need a hairbrush that tells me my hair is ‘fragile’? After all, I have my mother to do that.
The analytics behind the contraption seemed designed to cloud the true purpose of this humble object in an impenetrable fog of science: multiple sensors to quantify manageability, frizz, dryness, split ends and breakage, humidity, temperature, UV radiation and wind—a complex algorithm will then determine, presumably, that you need to buy some Kérastase serum.
Perhaps it is really the fact that all of this complexity results directly in a sales pitch that makes it such a turn off. My Nike Plus app never suggests I buy some trainers, nor does my Oral B electric toothbrush try to sell me toothpaste. But I may well buy some as a result of interacting with the brand every day, and as a result of that interaction being genuinely useful. But the "Kérastase Hair Coach" is just a new level of crass overreaching from a brand trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
Good technology, much like good design, solves problems seamlessly. Better still, it is invisible. It’s something that Singaporean bank DBS understands very well. "To make banking joyful, make the banking part invisible", is the strategy described by COO Paul Cobban.
It’s a truism a lot of innovators, at CES and elsewhere, would do well to observe.
—Katie Ewer is strategy director at Jones Knowles Ritchie in Singapore.