Amazon released its one-click, one-purchase Dash Buttons and its voice-activated Echo just months apart in 2015, but the latter has emerged as not only the media darling of the two but the vastly more versatile form of in-home commerce for the online giant.
In addition to Amazon-developed apps that stretch Alexa's capabilities far beyond its original scope, third-party developers are scrambling to get their own voice-activated portals up and running on the device so consumers can say the word and have anything from a pizza to an Uber delivered straight to their doors.
Unlike the thriving ecosystem behind the Echo, Dash Buttons have been infinitely more utilitarian. Want some paper towels? Buy the Bounty Dash Button. Always running out of laundry detergent? Choose your favorite brand and buy from it forever.
But what if Dash Buttons could become just a little bit more like the customizable commerce platform the Amazon Echo is quickly becoming?
What if Amazon was planning that all along?
It's impossible to prove, of course, but the timing of the latest announcement out of Seattle makes one wonder. As of Saturday (May 14), Amazon had expanded the lineup of Dash Buttons — not with another group of partnering brands but rather with the "limited release" Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT Button. Essentially a Dash in form, its function differs greatly. Instead of allowing customers to restock essential items at the literal push of a button, the AWS IoT Button trades uniformity for customizability. Integration with the AWS cloud suite means that an infinite combination of programmed instructions can, with a simple button press, trigger actions "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."
It's a short step from there to all kinds of customizable purchasing conditions. A push of an AWS IoT Button could check a smartfridge's contents, compare counts to programmed triggers and automatically order whatever is running low.
It should sound familiar — like the echo of another Amazon product making headway in turning the unshoppable home into a voice-activated, at-the-ready marketplace.
It goes without saying, though, that, no matter the depth of programmable personalization that an AWS IoT Button allows, much of the benefits will be limited, at first, to an early adopter population with the skills to cook up some seriously worthwhile recipes for the buttons. However, that ground could be covered faster than it seems at first glance. Wired noted that the tasker app IFTTT already uses customized "recipes" and digital buttons on homescreens to trigger often-complex actions, and rolling this out into the physical world is just a matter of mediums.
But if Amazon can actually sell consumers on the premise of creating their own magic buttons that take care of multiple tasks at once, contextual commerce would be taken for a ride.
Just imagine — as it stands now, retailers are trying to find the needle of data in the ever-growing haystack that tells them what their consumers are looking to buy and when they're most likely to pull the trigger. It's a one-way street that has brands often groping in the dark for answers. However, programmable AWS IoT Buttons flip this script on its head. Instead of trying to identify the conditions under which consumers are most likely to purchase or research, giving out one-touch buttons through which consumers can set their own buying parameters moves the onus of contextual commerce from the business to the shopper and removes a considerably growing weight from their shoulders in the process.
If that's in the future of the AWS IoT Button, it's likely a good ways off. However, if the growth of the Echo can serve as any indication, Amazon's plays at groundbreaking ways of selling more stuff hardly ever fall as flat as many first believe.