The Amazon Dash Button is a new gimmick the company has just offered to its Amazon Prime members. It’s a plastic button about the size of a car alarm remote with a product label and some wi-fi innards. What does it do? Well, for example, let’s say you stick a Dash Button for Tide on your washing machine. When you run low on detergent, you push the button — and shazam, Tide is reordered for you. You could have an Olay button on the medicine cabinet for when you run out of moisturizer. One for mac and cheese. Cat food. Whatever.
Can you imagine having buttons stuck to everything in your house? I referred to it as a gimmick, and it is. But it’s a good gimmick, because it’s what may finally kick start the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things is the idea of connectivity outside computers, tablets and phones. Many examples of the IoT already exist: human-sensing lights that schedule illumination based on presence patterns; cars with GPS that detects traffic jams as they happen, and wristbands that give you reports on your activity and sleep.
In preparation for the Dash Button, Amazon trialed a Dash reordering wand last year in three cities — and they’re already moving beyond the button to the next logical step: integration. Dash Replenishment Services works with manufacturers to build reordering functionality into products. Soon you can have a washer that reorders detergent. Pitchers that reorder water filters. Coffeemaker pods. Printer toner. And so forth. Integrating purchasing functionality into the IoT makes sense. Why must we go to a browser or app to make a purchase, especially a recurring one? And, from an even more practical point of view, how often do you remember you need something only when you go to reach for it?
More than 50 years ago, Marshall McLuhan explained that the purpose of technology was to extend our normal human abilities. Its purpose is to make us superhuman — to help us be more, know more and do more with less effort. Perhaps making a new box of protein bars appear is a mundane superpower. But Superman once flew to China just to get takeout for Lois. Mundane can be important.
There are big implications for healthcare and healthier living in IoT developments like these — which, if you think about it, are simply innumerable mundane moments. Studies show that we’re more likely to make healthier choices when the willpower drain they require is minimized. Tools like the Dash Button can make previously cumbersome decisions painless.
My medicine bottles should be connected to the pharmacy. My fridge should be connected to the farmer’s market — and not the bakery. Examples like these are easy wins for healthy decisions.
Furthermore, while Dash Buttons may indeed be gimmicky, Amazon’s clout means that they may become prevalent fast, and, in so doing, help normalize the IoT. If a non-tech-savvy parent becomes accustomed to pressing a button on the pantry to order paper towels and their kid learns to press a button on the fridge when they grab the last juice box, that parent may not blink when new health-focused IoT devices enter their life. They won’t be as surprised when their shower stall provides weight and body-fat stats to their doctor or when their dishware tracks their nutritional intake. Dash Buttons are a baby step toward a more integrated life.
Will a Dash Button change my life? Of course not. But did I sign up? What do you think?