amazon-dash-button-details-2Amazon just announced a new product called the Dash button. Basically, it is a button with a label like Tide or Cottonelle, connected to the internet and available only to Amazon Prime members (you know, the subscription that gives you free shipping). When you need to buy the thing associated with the button, you press the button and a fresh supply turns up at your house a couple of days later.

Its usefulness to the consumer is obvious. You are sitting on the commode, notice you are running low on toilet paper and rather than having to fiddle with your phone (even if you have it there), you press the Cottonelle button and you are done. The same applies to all manner of products, from laundry detergents to sparkling soda. Currently, 255 products are available with a button, and Amazon didn’t reveal what criteria determines which items will get one.

What’s in it for Amazon is also obvious. This is yet another reason to join Prime and another reason to order stuff without thinking too hard about it. For instance, it will appeal to people who don’t shop around for toilet paper deals. Amazon likes those people. Moreover, it seems to be closely related to Amazon’s core business, unlike recent failed efforts like Echo and Fire Phone.

What is more interesting about all of this is what it means for the so-called Internet of Things. This phrase has been around for a few years and was supposed to be the next big thing – connecting physical objects to the internet and allowing unspecified wonders to take place.

There has long been envisaged a WiFi-connected fridge that would work out what you are low on, or what has expired, and relay that information to you without the need to open the door. Then there were the connected toasters or coffee makers than could automatically ensure your breakfast is ready when you get downstairs. Suffice it to say, this new connected world hasn’t quite happened.

Where it has been more successful is in cameras you can place somewhere in your house and occasionally look in on pets or children. It has also been successful for things like thermostats (most notably the Nest, which was bought by Google for around US$3 billion last year) that can learn your behavior and preferences and adjust the temperature depending on the weather and other factors.

Unlike the connected toaster, these devices have something important in common: they don’t require you to do much. Specifically, they don’t require you to change your routine or “homeflow” (a word I’m coining here that is the equivalent of workflow in software development). The idea is that people have routines as to how they juggle tasks. Software can slot into that routine (like checking your email or twitter). The same is true of home routines.

The Dash will, I believe, become the main example of this. It is homeflow-oriented and designed to cut out a ton of stuff. Consider what we have to do now with regard to toilet paper:

  1. notice that toilet paper is low (in the bathroom)
  2. do your business
  3. remember to go and order more toilet paper or put it on a shopping list
  4. remember the list.

With dash, the homeflow turns into:

  1. notice that toilet paper is low
  2. press button to order more.

It is simple and time efficient (you can press the button while taking care of business), and then you don’t have to spend any more cognitive energy on the rest. In this way, you’ll always have ““squares to spare.”

To those developing products for the Internet of Things, this is an important lesson. The thing is not what is critical but how it will fit into the homeflow. Amazon has found a way to crack that. Others will hopefully follow.

Will invitation-only Amazon Dash catch on?

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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5 Responses to Amazon hacks your homeflow

  1. Jim Kay says:

    This ‘great advance’ leaves me cold. But then I might not be like most of the other readers here. First, I don’t take my phone into the toilet, I prefer to take a book. Second, I don’t run out of toilet paper because I keep a spare roll in the bathroom and when I don’t have a spare roll, I make sure to buy more. Third, Amazon Prime leaves me cold and the idea of doing an online order for something as trivial as a package of toilet paper doesn’t appeal to me either. But then I live in the area of Taipei and a five minute walk from home will get me to at least three local stores that sell toilet paper. When I pass one of those stores, I automatically think about what I might want to buy. I pass them daily. (People who live in New York City have the same easy convenience.) The Taipei area is said to have the highest concentration of convenience stores in the world. I find that claim believable. Then too, I can’t help thinking about the carbon footprint of requesting a delivery for such a trivial thing I can so easily buy as I’m walking home. Just because I don’t have to pay Amazon separately for the delivery doesn’t excuse me from my own carbon footprint. It’s no wonder Americans produce the most carbon-dioxide per-capita of any country in the world! It’s embarrassing as it certainly should be.

    • JT says:

      Not having a phone in the bathroom means the button would be even more useful! And having one roll left means that is the perfect time to make a delivery order; if totally out, most people would run out to the store I think. Sure the carbon footprint of this is bigger than walking around the corner but surely it’s smaller than getting in the car and driving to a store, which I think it will most often replace, assuming that delivery drivers only need small route diversions to add a single extra delivery (I’ve often wondered about this when ordering from amazon though).

  2. My reaction was pragmatic. I suppose it could be helpful here and there. But at the expense of having children press it dozens of times and having thousands of rolls of toilet paper arriving unexpectedly!

  3. tgk1946 says:

    Note the date on this article.

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