This is not a headline you're likely to find in your RSS feed any time soon, but what if one day is came true? Would iOS users worldwide swap their hard earned cash for an app that aimed to improve their dental health? This is a question I've been asking myself a lot of late, and whilst I can't answer it with 100% certainty, my gut feeling is that they probably would.
So why the obsession with dental apps? Well when I developed Tooth Camp back in 2010, I thought that it was the perfect idea for an app: 100% potential customer base (everyone brushes their teeth, right?), plus I rarely last 2 minutes (not uncommon, apparently), so anything that could make brushing more enjoyable seemed like a great idea.
I knew that it had to be based around a 2 minute timer, but more importantly it had to be both entertaining and motivating, otherwise it would get used twice and then be deleted, or worse still, put in a long forgotten folder with a fart app, Google+ and other assorted arseware.
That's when I came up with the idea of basing the app around a boot camp drill instructor. It certainly had the motivation factor, and by providing the "brusher" with a running commentary, it had the capacity to be entertaining (In my head at least).
Tooth Camp finally hit the App Store in October 2010 and received a luke warm reception. Despite various attempts to gain some attention (A promo video with original soundtrack, and a 2.0 release that included additional drill instructors), it still seemed that the world was not yet ready for Sergeant Phil Ling and Co.
Of course it has crossed my mind that perhaps Tooth Camp is just a bit crap. It certainly doesn't have the strong design values of Tapbots excellent Tweetbot or the uniqueness of Clear that drove inquisitive users the world over (myself included) to download it to see what all the fuss was about. I have long considered spending endless hours adding curves, gradients, and delightful animations, but at the end of the day, if the masses don't think that it's a problem that needs to be solved by an iOS app, then I would just be wasting my time.
Could the problem be that tooth brushing apps just aren't "sexy"?
The dozens of other developers that have created similar apps thought that there was a potential market there, but I know from my own purchasing habits that unless an app is in one of Apple's top lists, or scrolls by in my Twitter timeline, then it's never going to appear on my radar. The same applies, I believe, to this whole genre, which is currently sitting in a dim, dusty, slightly musty corner of the App Store.
Which brings me back to my original question: would an Apple designed tooth brushing app drive interest in the category? I'm almost certain now, having written this post, that it would: purely because it would open people's eyes to the possibility that their device could be used for that purpose.
Perhaps the app discovery problem isn't just a problem about discovering individual apps, but also a problem of discovering the types of apps that are available? Maybe Siri could help out one day? Imagine if you asked her where is the nearest dentist was, and as well as being presented with a list of the nearest dental clinics she also gave you the option to view a list of related dental apps. As long as they weren't displayed in a sleazy "here are some ads for some apps" kind of way, I think it would be a great trigger for discovery.
Alas, we're not there yet, so we're going to have to do it the old fashioned way: by making extraordinary apps. So to all you app developers, designers, and the freakish few who do both, I issue this challenge: If you think that the world needs an awesome tooth brushing app, then go forth and create something beautiful. Something magical. Something Wondrous. Something to make the world smile.
P.S. Alternatively you could let me know that you think these apps are a good idea, and I'll make Tooth Camp more awesomer.