Could Amazon Dash Undermine The Internet Of Things?

The future of the Internet of Things is still uncertain.
For years, the Internet of Things has been heralded as a game-changer. The introduction of internet access to formerly passive and offline devices has been described as a domestic revolution, changing the way our appliances and gadgets perform by obtaining a wealth of information that will enrich and simplify our lives.
Launched in the UK last month, the Amazon Dash service is an early pioneer of the Internet of Things. At the same time, it could potentially damage the long-term prospects of the nascent – yet hugely potent – IoT market. For the uninitiated, Amazon Dash is a service that enables consumers to automatically reorder items without having to go online and use an eCommerce checkout. The Dash flagship is a Wi-Fi-enabled stick used to scan domestic goods and place online orders, though there are also internet-connected buttons that can be fitted around the home. Each button correlates to a particular product, such as a certain brand and quantity of dishwasher tablets or cat treats. A single press sends an automated message to Amazon through Wi-Fi, requesting immediate dispatch of a repeat order.
While the handheld scanner is clearly a multi-functional tool that could eventually perform a weekly shop from the relative comfort of your kitchen, the buttons appear more nebulous. They can only order one item, so if you fancy buying a value pack of something or trying a different flavour, you’re out of luck. There are no dispatch date options, no scope to leave delivery instructions and no notification of price changes. The limitations are therefore obvious.
With other branded goods providers jumping on the bandwagon and launching their own reorder buttons, there is a danger that unrelated internet-enabled gadgets may be dismissed as equally one-dimensional. After all, the Internet of Things is supposed to make our lives easier. It’s been marketed as an overarching solution to problems few of us knew existed – never again will poor teeth-cleaning be a problem, and never again will milk go off in the fridge without a replacement carton being delivered. However, this could equally be interpreted as frivolous and an invasion of privacy – does a retailer have the right to know you haven’t ordered cat biscuits for the last 53 days? Can they sell this information to third parties, and what are your legal rights if they do?
Since Amazon is the UK’s most high-profile online retailer, Dash Buttons are being aggressively promoted. This may be many people’s first experience of an IoT device, and while the technology is impressive, its limitations are obvious. The buttons use inefficient natural resource-hungry batteries, they can’t be recycled at the end of their life (or when the customer moves onto a rival brand), and they clutter up worktops or cupboard doors.
It would be worrying if today’s obsession with reorder buttons casts a pall over other compact devices that share information via the internet, considering the huge potential for Internet of Things technology around our homes and workplaces. The IoT should offer much more than an overnight delivery of 48 brand-specific dishwasher tablets, but first impressions last. It remains to be seen if internet-enabled bathroom scales and smartphone-controlled lightbulbs are acknowledged as representing a step forward in the journey towards connected homes, or dismissed as another short-term fad like Dash Buttons.