In 2009, Apple began running ads for its iPhone 3G with the slogan, "There's an app for that." Seven years later, as the mobile revolution evolves into the Internet of Things, it may be time to start saying, "There's a button for that."
Last year, Amazon introduced its Dash Button, a bite-size remote control designed for a single purpose: to enable Amazon Prime customers to reorder a specific product without having to go online. Customers pay $5 per product-specific button. Pushing the battery-powered button transmits a signal to the WiFi connection configured at setup that orders the designated product from Amazon without the need for a browser or mobile phone.
A physical expression of the patented "1-Click" online buying button that helped Amazon become successful, the Dash Button also looks like it will become financially meaningful to the company. In March, Daniel Rausch, director of Amazon Dash, said in a statement that more than 100 Dash Buttons are now available, and that Dash Button orders have increased by more than 75% over the previous three months, reaching a rate of more than one per minute.
In October 2015, Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, told Bloomberg that Amazon had shipped 300,000 to 500,000 Dash Buttons, and that the devices could number 15 million to 20 million in three years.
The latest brands coming onboard -- Brawny, Charmin, Clorox, Doritos, Energizer, Gain, Honest Kids, L'Oreal Paris Revitalift, Lysol, Peet's Coffee, Playtex, Purina, Red Bull, Seventh Generation, Slim Jim, Snuggle, Starbucks, Trojan, and Vitamin Water, among others -- see value in having branded buttons in customers' homes for ordering their products. A physical button, after all, is easily discoverable, unlike a branded app, which can get lost amid the millions of apps in leading app stores, or even among the several dozen apps typically found on a smartphone.
Now Amazon is looking beyond buttons promoting third-party products to a button associated with its own cloud services. On May 12, the company released the Amazon IoT Button, a programmable version of the Dash Button, to complement its AWS IoT service.
"You can code the button's logic in the cloud to configure button clicks to count or track items, call or alert someone, start or stop something, order services, or even provide feedback," Amazon explained on its website. "For example, you can click the button to unlock or start a car, open your garage door, call a cab, call your spouse or a customer service representative, track the use of common household chores, medications or products, or remotely control your home appliances."
The Amazon IoT Button is programmable to the extent that all roads lead through Amazon Web Services. It requires, of course, an AWS Account. It's not as flexible as hacked Dash Buttons, which can be programmed to communicate with any networked service or device. At $20, it's also four times more expensive for consumers than brand-specific Dash Buttons.
The Dash Button and the Amazon IoT Button have another problem: Their batteries are not easily replaceable.
Amazon said the IoT Button battery will last about 1,000 presses. That works out to about two cents a press -- to say nothing about the waste created by non-reusable electronics. For those interested in hacking, there are more economical, environmentally responsible options for triggering cloud services from a device.
Nonetheless, there appear to be plenty of developers interested in using AWS to mediate their IoT Buttons' requests. The limited-release Amazon IoT Button was sold out on May 13, a day after its debut.Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio