How much technology do we want in our bathrooms?
We spend a lot of time in these sometimes very small rooms and sometimes they’re quite big. Bathtubs today are seen more as self-care time, a part of our relaxation rituals, where for a time, they were primarily for getting clean. Today, the shower is where we get clean. Bathroom designs and uses vary by cultures as well. In Japan, the toilet is mostly a separate room, usually with a tiny sink on the back of the toilet. The sink and tub are in a separate room. The French of course, invented the bidet, an alternative to toilet paper and actually much more hygienic. Regardless of the country and culture, bathrooms are part of our daily rituals. Technology is starting to creep into our bathrooms now as well. But do we want it there?
Yes. And no. It’s complicated. A crappy situation if you will, if you’re a tech startup looking to bring technology into the bathroom. There are some countries where it may be easier than others, and it all boils down to culture and what we do and don’t want to know.
There are two approaches by technology companies that want to hang out in your bathroom. One is aesthetic and the other is health focused.
The Aestehtic Tech
On this side of the bathroom, we have toilets with seat warmers, night lids with low lighting, touch-free lids with a remote control (just don’t drop the remote in the bowl!) Some are designed to be self-cleaning or have speakers controlled from your smartphone and yes, WiFi connected.
There are smart shower heads that can help control water flow, manage the water temperature better. They work through buttons or voice commands. Don’t yell too loud though, you might wake your partner! Then there’s LED mirrors and ones that can display information while you shave or put on some make-up. And smart faucets that basically do the same as the smart shower heads.
The Health Side
This is where IoT or smart devices can be more useful, but they can also get a bit difficult for how we want to accept them.
There are a few companies, still in research and stealth mode (I’ve worked with two of them) that are developing sensors that go into your toilet. One is looking to detect for pregnancy in urine, the other at blood sugars and kidney health. Another is looking at monitoring water quality. It folded due to a lack of consumer interest during the research phase. Another is looking at facial monitoring for mental health, such as could your facial expressions indicate potential depression.
But do we want smart devices in our bathrooms?
This is where it gets complicated. In ethnographic research I did on the health side, many people were interested but most women and men were uncomfortable in sharing such data. This is interesting given the amount of data collected on us every day. Women were the most reluctant and men were more inclined to try it out. In speaking with people from Indian, Latin American and Asian cultures, there was even greater resistance to any technology with a sensor that recorded anything. From both men, women and non-binary genders.
When it comes to the aesthetic side, there was more interest and broader acceptance across genders and cultures. That said, most didn’t really feel a need was there and not much of a want either. Mostly it was curiosity and that does not a market a make.
Across both aspects, the biggest negative towards technology in the bathroom was the feeling of the bathroom being a quiet place and a highly personal space. It is an intimate space was well that we rarely want another person in, even our space. Parents with little kids however, know this is rare!
So while IoT (smart) devices may be popping up in all our other rooms in our houses, it seems for now that the bathroom may well remain off-limits for sometime. Aesthetic devices such as toilet seat warmers may find some small market adoption, but they’ll remain more of a Veblen Good than an actual need. And much will depend on the culture as well.