During the reign of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the company has produced a lot of useful, but also bizarre, products. Here are a few of our personal favorites.
THE CLOUD Computing SERVICES AMAZON SELLS TO OTHER COMPANIES Could BE THEIR MOST PROFITABLE Company. But, during CEO Jeff Bezos’ tenure, Amazon has also built up a sizable hardware market. These devices have ranged from the downright bizarre to the downright disruptive.
WIRED’s Gear team wanted to look back at some of the most popular Amazon accessories from the past 15 years in light of the announcement that Bezos will step down as CEO later this year. Amazon seldom discloses the amount of devices it has shipped, but the figures are important. There are now over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices on the market. Here are some of the most notable items from the Bezos period.
Kindle was released in 2007.
In November of 2007, the first Kindle was published. It was a large, bulky thing with odd slanted keys and bezels that could be seen from space and cost $400. It was sold out in under six hours.
Amazon had its job cut out for it back then. The ebook industry was a shambles at the time, with no easy way to bring media into the nascent ereaders. Amazon’s strong-arm tactics, as they always do, made the operation go smoothly. It had to sell both the hardware and the content; all it needed to do was link them.
The Kindle sparked a lot of debate in the publishing world. Amazon promised to sell the majority of its best-selling books for $9.99, a price that was seen as significantly lower than regular hardcover prices. So much so that when Apple first released the iPad, it made a concerted attempt to entice authors to use it exclusively, promising to charge extra for their books if they did. This led to the historic United States v. Apple Inc. case, in which Apple was found guilty of price fixing. Even though Apple lost the case, it also gave publishers more power over book prices.
Since those turbulent early days, Kindles have come a long way. The gadgets have developed into a variety of slim and light slabs. Although there are competitors such as Kobo and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Kindle remains the most common. Print books continue to dominate the industry, accounting for about a quarter of all book sales. However, Amazon sells almost all of those ebooks. The supremacy, however, is not uncontested. Amazon and five major publishers were hit with a class-action lawsuit in January over their own price-fixing scandal (filed by the same law firm as the Apple case, no less).
Amazon Fire in 2011
In November of 2011, Amazon released the first Kindle Fire tablet. It was designed to compete with Apple’s still-unreleased iPad. And the Kindle Fire might be able to meet those expectations. The seven-inch tablet had a rudimentary, not-bad web browser for reading the day’s tech blogs, and it could play videos, shows, and music (all downloaded from Amazon, of course).
The initial $200 Fire, as a piece of hardware, was “at the bottom of the tablet food chain,” as WIRED reviewer Jon Phillips put it. It was inexpensive, and it seemed to be so. It also ran on Amazon’s Fire OS, a custom version of Android that lagged behind iOS (and even Android). However, as the hardware improved, the applications became less buggy, and the tablet product category as a whole matured, Amazon decided to remove the “Kindle” from the name.
Today, Fire tablets are the best low-cost iPad alternatives available—as long as you don’t mind purchasing all of your content and installing all of your games from Amazon. Because of the low prices, all of the kid content on Prime, Amazon’s parental controls, and a sturdy, kid-proof construction, the Fire lineup is particularly popular with families with small children.
Dash in 2014
You may notice a pattern here: Amazon enjoys developing items that make it easier for you to shop on the site. As a result, the Dash wand, which first appeared in 2014, was born. You can zap the UPC code of any product in your home and connect it to your Amazon cart with this pen-shaped gadget with a built-in barcode scanner. It also had a microphone, allowing you to use your voice.
A year later, the Dash button appeared, a wireless device about the size of a plastic lighter with a large button on the face bearing the brand’s logo. The first Dash buttons featured brands you’d see around your house: “Tide,” “Cascade,” and “Charmin.” The tiny nubs transformed online shopping into a simple physical act: when you ran out of toilet paper, you simply pressed the toilet paper button to order more from Amazon.
When Amazon discovered that hardware hackers were having a field day flashing the firmware on Dash buttons, the company created a programmable version that could be used to switch on internet-connected lights, send a tweet, or order delivery from the Thai restaurant down the street. Dash buttons are no longer available—Amazon now recommends simply asking Alexa to order more toilet paper—but the concept of “interface-free shopping” lives on in items like the Dash Smart Shelf, which restocks itself when supplies run low.
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