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The Internet of Things and The Amazon Dash Button

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is being touted as the next big thing. One of the first commercial forays into the IoT is the Amazon Dash button. This is what it is and what it does.

The Internet of Things

The internet of things, or IoT, is the inter-networking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.

That’s the definition given by Wikipedia.

In layperson’s terms, it’s the evolution of the internet as we know it, and have known it into something that is embedded and intertwined with the objects that we use use daily. It’s no longer just viewing content through a web browser; it’s no longer just the social web. It goes deeper than that.

The Amazon Dash Button

An Amazon Dash button for Finish dishwasher products
An Amazon Dash button for Finish dishwasher products

Originally launched by Amazon, on 31st March 2015, in the United States, the Amazon Dash button is a small, Wi-Fi enabled device that has been designed to enable to make the ordering of products as simple as possible.

Typically used for household products such as detergents, dishwasher tablets and cosmetics, the Amazon Dash button is designed to be hung or stuck near to frequently reordered products.

The idea is that, for products such as dishwasher tablets, the Dash button could be mounted inside a kitchen cupboard or on the dishwasher itself. As you notice the depletion dishwasher tablets, a press of the button is all that is required to reorder new tablets.

This removes friction from the buying process. No longer is there any need to go upstairs to turn on a computer. No need to pull an app-enabled smartphone from a pocket, even.

Once upon a time, going to the shops required planning and effort. Purchasing from the comfort of one’s home or office made it feel like one was living in the future. Now, when only the press of a button is required, it seems that a couple of minutes on a smartphone is now time wasted.

Who It Is For

Following its release in the United States, in March 2015, and latterly in the United Kingdom in August 2016, the Amazon Dash button is available to Amazon Prime members only.

Amazon Prime is a yearly subscription service that provides members with benefits including:

  • Free, next day delivery on many products
  • Unlimited streaming of films and television shows, many in HD
  • Unlimited streaming of music, free from advertising
  • Unlimited secure photo storage

Prime is usually available to trial, free-of-charge, and then at an annual subscription of £79, the equivalent of £6.58 per month.

What it Does

The Amazon Dash button enables the reordering of a product with a single press of a button. No need to go to a computer or an app on a smartphone, login, find and select the product, checkout, enter payment details, enter addresses and so forth. 

Amazon Dash buttons are available for brands across the following product areas:

  • Beauty
  • Food & Beverages
  • Health & Personal Care
  • Household & Office
  • Kids & Baby
  • Pet

Amazon Dash buttons are available across a number of brands, including:

  • Andrex
  • Dettol
  • Fairy
  • Finish
  • Gillette
  • Kleenex
  • Nescafe
  • SimpleHuman

and many more.

A single press of a button and the product is reordered. It’s as close to frictionless eCommerce as you’re likely to get; it’s certainly the closest anyone has got, so far.

How it Works

The process for using an Amazon Dash button is straightforward. Dash Buttons are only available for specified brands and will, later, be configured for a specific product under that brand.

The first step is to order a desired Dash button. There is a small cost for each Dash button, currently £4.99 in the United Kingdom and $4.99 in the United States. This cost is reimbursed as a discount of the same amount upon the first order.

Upon receipt, the Dash button is configured in conjunction with the Amazon app on a smartphone. This is so that it can be configured for your Amazon account, configured for which product under that brand should be ordered and configured to work in conjunction with the home Wi-Fi network.

Once configured, the Dash button can be hung using the incorporated loop. Alternatively, it may be stuck onto a surface using the self-adhesive base.

It’s probably a good idea to mount it somewhere near where the particular product is stored or used. For example, a Dash button to reorder dishwasher tablets may be stick to the front of the dishwasher.

To reorder dishwasher tablets, press the button. A green light conveys that the order has been placed successfully. A red light means that the order request has been unsuccessful. 

As a safeguard, repeated presses of the button, following an initial press for an order, will have no effect. You’ll not receive many separate orders for the same product. The button will only be active again for new orders after an order has been delivered. Furthermore, all order statuses can be checked in the Amazon app on a smartphone. 

Orders can be cancelled, if done soon enough after the button is pressed, or returned to Amazon after they have been delivered if not required.

Why You’d Want a Dash Button

The most likely reasons for wanting an Amazon Dash button is that you are forgetful, lazy or you like gadgets. 

Personally speaking, I am forgetful, lazy and I like gadgets. Your own reason for getting one may be different.

A consideration is that Dash buttons are available across a number of brands 

The Controversy

Amazon Dash buttons are clever. They lock the consumer into particular brands purchased from a particular, dominant supplier. 

Do households really wish to fill up cupboards with little plastic boxes containing batteries and electronics, an activity that is wantonly consumerist and pose a growing problem in terms of waste and recycling in the future.

The gadget can not currently be recycled. Each one is good for around one thousand presses of the button before the battery expires. It can not be replaced, it has to be disposed of.

“They are a wasteful use of technology and a surprising step backwards for a company that prides itself on its innovative abilities,” says Greenpeace’s Gary Cook.

“There is nothing particularly innovative about creating a disposable electronic device that locks the user into a particular brand of disposable products. Adding to the massive global e-waste problem with an electronic device that has such limited functionality is certainly not innovative.” (Source: The Guardian)

The Future of the Dash Button

The Amazon Web Services Internet of Things programmable dash button for developers
The Amazon Web Services Internet of Things programmable dash button for developers

It’s clear that the Amazon Dash button is here to stay, for the medium-term at the very least. It’s a great way of making the chore of shopping into a frictionless experience that benefits Amazon by locking customers into buying from them.

For developers, Amazon is offering the chance to program Dash buttons in projects. As we’ve seen time and time again, when an innovation is opened up to the collective imagination of hackers and developers, things happen that are often beyond the original scope or expectation of the innovation.

Perhaps, in the future, Amazon will find a way of combining all of this into a single device, probably with the artificial intelligence of its Alexa AI from the Amazon Echo product. You could well be sitting in your kitchen speaking out loud a shopping list of requirements.

Conclusion

For a commercial foray into the IoT, the Amazon Dash button is exactly what is to be expected from an Jeff Bezos’ innovative organisation. Amazon is as much about technology and innovation as it is about ecommerce.

Whether consumers have the appetite for lots of little, ugly plastic boxes with buttons on them stuck all over appliances and cupboards is yet to be seen.