Apr13

Amazon’s Dash Buttons: A Step Towards The Connected Home?

The world thought it was an April Fool, but Amazon’s Dash Buttons are set to hit homes soon. Is this a step towards an Internet-of-Things-connected home?

To us, the fact that Amazon had to swear it’s not an April Fools joke says everything about the Dash Buttons. But let’s take a look anyway: Amazon, the “everything” retailer, has started making these little buttons for people to place all over their homes. When a product (think washing powder, wet-wipes, or bleach) has run out, you just press the button and voila a replacement order is placed on Amazon.

Now, this concept is not a terrible idea, nor is it all that new: the connected home is a major element in the budding world of Internet of Things. The idea is to give gadgets such as washing machines, coffee makers and refrigerators the ability to communicate that things have run out, or even re-order items without bothering their flesh-and-blood masters.

But with the idea being that we have appliances with built-in sensors to do the detecting and re-ordering, where do these big clunky buttons come in? The Amazon approach would have us place brightly-coloured buttons all over our houses, whereas the sensors will take the devices one step closer to becoming sentient, if you will, in an effort to make life easier. This makes us think: why not skip the buttons all together and aim for the end product? A press of the button only sends a notification to an Amazon app on the phone, which you’d probably want to keep an eye on anyway in case careless fingers pressed the button for diapers a dozen times, so does it really make life much easier?

In fairness, Amazon is on the same path as the overall thinking for the future of the Internet of Things. Amazon has admitted that the WiFi-connected button approach is only meant to be a stepping stone. “Some people will think buttons will be a silly idea, and it is a silly idea to think we will have houses full of buttons,” Kinley Pearsall, a spokesperson for Amazon, told the ‘Wall Street Journal’. The idea is not to have buttons for every single thing you buy, but just for the most common items that are bought very regularly. Concluded Pearsall: “The real long-term goal is that you never have to worry about hitting that button.”.

On that note, Amazon is in fact working with electronics manufacturers to make this happen. The Amazon Dash Replenishment Service should become available this autumn, with dishwashers from Whirlpool, water filters from Brita, and printers from Brothers, all capable of re-ordering the products they need once supplies run low.

The Dash Replenishment Service is actually a very interesting idea, and makes you wonder why Amazon bothered launching the Dash Buttons at all. The answer? They’re testing the waters to see just how a connected home could improve customer experience. Pearsall said: “Our goal with the Dash Button is to learn as much as possible about what customers think about this.”. Though it remains to be seen whether the Dash Button will really be the bellwether for Amazon’s Internet-of-Things world, as wanting a dishwasher that re-orders detergent is really not the same as wanting a button the size of a packet of gum stuck to the side of your machine. Maybe in an office or warehouse a button could be useful to signal that something has run out, but even there it’s probably easier to just set up a repeat order of products in heavy use.

Amazon has only produced Dash Buttons for common goods, recognising there are certain things we pretty much always need to buy no matter what. But Ian Crouch, a writer for the ‘New Yorker’, had a more philosophical take: “According to Amazon, these products represent the actual rhythm of life, any interruption of which might lead not only to inconvenience but to the kind of coffee-deprived despair that we see when the woman realizes that she has run out of [coffee]. That’s the real dystopia: not that our daily lives could be reduced to a state of constant shopping but that we might ever have to, even for a moment, stop shopping.”.

shutterstock_267550613The upside of running out of something and being faced with the choice about replacing it may trigger valuable questions: Do I need to keep buying this? I think I’d like to support my local shop this time. Maybe I should go organic? Crouch argues: “The act of shopping – of leaving the house and going to a store, or, at the very least, of one-click ordering on the Amazon website – is a check against the inertia of consumption, not only in personal economic terms but in ethical ones as well.”.

Having a shopping list on the refrigerator may seem too quaint in the age where there’s an app for everything. But even for those who feel that way, apps are probably the better solution for ordering things you want to buy rather than having Dash Buttons strewn around the house. Using an app may require a couple more clicks, but we are more likely to be able to manage it: open the app, search for the item, add it to the basket and check out. Because as a step towards an Internet-of-Things-connected home, the Dash Button is a dead end.

What do you think? Could the Dash Buttons revolutionize home living? Tweet us @vpsnet.

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