The ridiculous world of single-use IoT devices

The rise of IoT comes with all the promise of self-driving cars, smartwatches that do everything from track your heartbeat to acting as your credit card, and homes that can be entirely controlled with your smartphone from anywhere in the world. However, this isn’t where many brands are taking the technology. There is also a rise of single-use IoT devices that only do one thing, and that one thing is only really useful in occasional circumstance.

It’s actually difficult to find many cases of single-use IoT devices in today’s ecosystem.

Even wristwatches which used to only tell time are now responsible for delivering your text messages, tracking your steps and heartbeat, updating you on the score of the game your favorite team is playing, and any number of other things. The same can even be said for programmable lights which can be programmed to blink when you receive a tweet or turn on when you are within a mile of home.

Enter the Amazon Dash Button

Perhaps the biggest example of this category is the Amazon Dash Button. We’ve written about this device before, both in how its original purpose takes the concept of IoT too far and how its extended purpose could make IoT technologies more useful.

At first glance, these buttons would appear to be an April Fool’s joke by the retail giant. How ridiculous would it be to have buttons attached to various places in your home that order things on your behalf?

These buttons are purchasable for $4.99 that do one thing: order an item from Amazon when you press it. Certain promotions through Amazon available to Prime customers enable users to receive a credit for $4.99 after their first purchase using the device. This makes the button essentially free, as long as you can prove that you’re willing to use it to restock on things like laundry detergent or macaroni and cheese.

But in reality, do we really need a dedicated button in our home to resupply our cache of Slim Jim meat sticks? Do we need a button inside our cabinets or attached to our appliances that do nothing more than add single items to our cart on Amazon?

The case for convenience

If there is one argument to be made in favor of these gimmicky devices, it’s convenience. In a household that uses Amazon as its primary source for groceries and other goods that can survive a trip through the mail, this simple button is an added convenience to remind you that you are running low on something when you might otherwise forget.

Instead of whipping out your phone and adding a box of Tide to your cart, you just push a button. It’s convenient, and that makes you more likely to buy.

For Amazon, these buttons are great. It makes Amazon a more logical choice for consumers that could otherwise drive down to their local grocery store for these goods. From the moment someone brings a Play-Doh button into their home, it’s safe to say that Amazon will be their source of Play-Doh from that moment forward.

This makes these single-use devices like the Dash Button a convenience for the consumer and a sale-generating tool for the retailer.

Security and single-use IoT Devices

Then, of course, there is the security concern that comes up every time an IoT device is introduced to a network. That concern being that with each new system to add to a network, your susceptibility to intrusion increases.

Thankfully for Dash Button users, this isn’t a big issue with this particular type of device as it doesn’t do anything more than send information directly to Amazon through a low-powered Wi-Fi controller. It powers up only to send a tiny bit of information and receive confirmation that the information has been received. Then, it powers down until the next button press.

As for other concerns such as open ports and two-way communication leading to someone accessing other systems in your home, it’s not a huge problem with the Amazon Dash Button – at least not in its original programming. It exists only to send a message to Amazon, not to execute complex commands or chat with other devices such as your refrigerator.

Getting more out of Amazon’s Dash Button

Clearly, the Dash button concept can be used to do incredible things like open all the blinds in a room, change the lighting to match, and fire up your television and/or stereo simultaneously. This is cool, and exactly what a proverbial IoT red button should be used for.

It is also one of the reasons that Amazon finally released an IoT version of its Dash Button, giving developers the opportunity to put this button concept to more productive use. Now, this little hackable button could be used like the electronic ignition of a car, firing up your coffee pot or turning on your lights for you.

Indeed, the real value of this device is in its potential. Sure you can order goodies with it, but if you could also use it to do things that provide actual value to your life, why not?

For all the gimmick and silliness that buying a button to refill your supply of Nerf darts, Amazon really did create a concept around a uniquely useful single-purpose networked device. While it might not be the revolutionary hot new item in retail, it could have a lasting impact as developers find new ways to put this simple product to good use.

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