Tech

Oral-B Takes ‘Alexa’ Feature Away From Its Toothbrush Base 4 Years After Selling Them

Here we are again, with yet another in our series of posts describing how in these here modern times you simply don’t actually own the things you’ve bought. This sort of thing takes many forms, of course. Sometimes the digital media you “bought” gets disappeared by a platform after a licensing deal runs out. Sometimes the hardware you bought turns into a relatively expensive brick because the company you bought it from decides to stop supporting those devices entirely. And, as Sony made famous with its PlayStation 3, sometimes a company simply decides to disappear a feature that was a selling point on a product on a whim.

Well, that last and oldest example appears to be the most analogous to what Oral-B just did to customers of some of its toothbrushes, which came with a charging base that you could connect to an Amazon Alexa.

That’s what’s happening to some who bought into Oral-B toothbrushes with Amazon Alexa built in. Oral-B released the Guide for $230 in August 2020 but bricked the ability to set up or reconfigure Alexa on the product this February. As of this writing, the Guide is still available through a third-party Amazon seller.

The Guide toothbrush’s charging base was able to connect to the Internet and work like an Alexa speaker that you could speak to and from which Alexa could respond. Owners could “ask to play music, hear the news, check weather, control smart home devices, and even order more brush heads by saying, ‘Alexa, order Oral-B brush head replacements,’” per Procter & Gamble’s 2020 announcement.

And then, in February of this year, Oral-B simply took that feature away. Where there once was an app that you could use to connect the Guide base to your Alexa, that feature in the app is no longer available. For those that had it previously setup with their Alexa, the base will work right up until the point that it drops its internet connection, after which it will no longer connect.

And if you thought refunds would be a thing here, it appears that’s not the case.

That’s a problem for Patrick Hubley, who learned that Oral-B discontinued Connect when his base inadvertently disconnected from the Wi-Fi and he tried using Connect to fix it. He told Ars Technica that when he tries using the Alexa wake word now, the speaker says, “I’m having trouble connecting to the Internet. For help, go to your device’s companion app.”

Hubley attempted but failed to get a refund or replacement brush through Oral-B’s support avenues. He says he will no longer buy Oral-B or Alexa products.

“I only purchased this toothbrush from Amazon because that was the only way to get the water-resistant Alexa speaker that I wanted for the bathroom. … I’m ready to be done with Alexa and Oral-B both.”

This is all starting to sound like the Spotify Car Thing story I linked to in the opener. If history is a guide, perhaps a good bout of public outrage from buyers of the Guide will spur Oral-B to reconsider offering refunds for a product it retroactively decided to make less useful after purchase.

But either way, there really should be some sort of consumer rights associated with not having a product that is purchased suddenly lose features long after purchase. In the meantime, I’ll just have to go back to singing in the shower, I suppose.

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