The doorbell rings. Which is odd, because I didn’t order anything, and no one’s supposed to come over. I’m snapped out of my confusion by a second ring, and I bound down the two flights of stairs to answer the door. It’s the FedEx guy. He hands me a brown package with black tape advertising the Fire Phone, hikes up his shorts, and walks away. I definitely didn’t order anything, but it does have my name on it… so I open it up.
Four light bulbs, 60 watts.
What the hell? What kind of weird troll is it to send someone four light bulbs? I start to filter through the box to find a receipt with a billing address—and suddenly, the lamp by my desk flickers out.
Apparently I ordered new light bulbs. More specifically, my lamp ordered them.
Apparently I ordered new light bulbs. More specifically, my lamp ordered them. When it discovered the current bulb had just 48 hours of life, it said its goodbyes, moved on, and quickly logged into Amazon and bought me another one.
This is the future according to Amazon. It’s also the whole goal of the Dash platform: keep your stuff in stock. The company is announcing today the the Dash Button, a one-touch way to re-order common things in your home, along with the Dash Replenishment Service, a wildly futuristic program that’s designed to automatically and intelligently keep you from ever running out of things again.
The original Dash was launched in limited capacity almost exactly a year ago—it’s the most unremarkable magic wand ever made. You can scan the barcode on your empty milk carton, or tap a button and say “milk” into the device, and Amazon will automatically ship you a new carton of milk with free two-day delivery.
One thing Amazon learned from the Dash is that most people re-order the same couple of things over and over, and that they have a tendency to forget to do so when they’re not near their Dash. Of course, when you’re not shopping, you’re not useful to Amazon, which is where the Dash Button comes in. It’s a sticky oval about as long as your pinky finger, designed to be placed on a cabinet, a refrigerator, or a bathroom sink wall. Anyone with a Prime membership can get one.
Each button is linked to a brand—Amazons launching in partnership with Gillette, Cottonelle, Gatorade, Kraft, Olay, Tide, and a handful of others, but soon anyone can join the program—and you decide which specific product you want when you first set up the free button. Let’s say you set yours up to order 24 blue Gatorades: Every time you hit that button, it blinks white and then green, and in two days you’ll get 24 blue Gatorades. (Amazon will only fulfill one order at a time, so you won’t be penalized for forgetting you hit the button as easily as you used to forget to order the Gatorade.) And every time something gets ordered, you get a notification on your phone through the Amazon app, so you can cancel it if you’ve decided to kick the blue Gatorade habit once and for all.
The Dash Button is a sticky oval about as long as your pinky finger, designed to be placed on a cabinet, a refrigerator, or a bathroom sink wall. Anyone with a Prime membership can get one.
Handy, right? Everyone has a couple of things they buy frequently, the same thing every time. (Me: coffee, seltzer, laundry detergent.) Amazon’s standard subscription service is sort of a brute-force solution, assuming you never take a break from Gatorade or go on vacation. It’s much smarter to just make it really easy to order more Gatorades when you notice there’s only one left in the fridge—plus, it almost certainly means you’ll drink more Gatorade over time. You win again, Amazon.
Where Dash gets really crazy is in the Dash Replenishment Service (which Amazon calls DRS), which aims to remove you from the process entirely. It’s a simple cloud service that enables anything with an Internet connection to automatically re-order something for you. What if your printer knew when it was almost out of ink, and could buy you more? Brother is one of the first DRS partners, and aims to do just that. Oddball inventor’s laboratory Quirky is building a connected coffeepot and an infant formula machine, both of which can order their own refills and replacement equipment. Your Whirlpool washing machine could know the size of detergent bottle you buy and how much of it you’ve used, deducing when it’s time to order more. You know that Brita filter you haven’t replaced in three years? (I’m nodding my head.) It’ll automatically get another one shipped out as soon as it’s needed.
It’s an amazing, futuristic, surprisingly logical idea. It’s also totally terrifying. I have no idea when my Brita filter needs replacing; it’s nice to have the filter tell me, but what’s to stop Brita from ordering a replacement 25 percent sooner than it needs to? I’ll never know it’s conning me, and it’ll suddenly cost me 25 percent more. If Kraft sends me just a little more mac ‘n’ cheese than I really need, it’s just going to invisibly drive up the cost. And, yeah, there’s something a little creepy about Amazon knowing the exact pace with which I go through toilet paper. You Might Like: Prune Juice, Fiber One cereal.
Amazon’s fairly candid about the fact that it has a lot to think through, and says that’s why it’s opening this up slowly. There will be a beta, and a much wider launch this fall. At that point, though, Amazon VP Peter Larsen says any device with internet access can use DRS with just ten lines of code.
Larsen says this is the future, that it’s not a matter of if but when. And as much as I’m terrified, and worried about Amazon’s capitalistic impulses and the vast amounts of deeply personal data it will collect about me, I keep coming back to that burned-out light bulb. What if the internet of things can fix itself, or at least get you the parts you need? (Amazon’s already working on being able to call the guy to come fix it, too.) That’s a pretty amazing step toward removing frustrating friction from our lives. And look, let’s be honest: I really need to change my Brita filter.