Amazon Dash wants to make buying groceries as easy as saying 'cheese'

Image: Amazon

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It seems a little bit like something from a retro-futurist’s dream: Tell a small handheld device your grocery list, and it’ll go ahead and prepare an order that will be delivered to your door.  It sounds a little like a smartphone, but it isn’t: It’s Amazon Dash, a new way to order groceries through Amazon Fresh.

Amazon Dash is about the size of a remote control, and it features both a microphone and a barcode scanner, which allows you to either speak the name of the item you need (say, “cheese”) or scan the barcodes for whatever you need.

The Dash then sends your order to Amazon Fresh using its Wi-Fi connection: All you need to do is review the order on your smartphone, tablet, or computer to schedule your delivery and make the purchase official.

Why another device?

Of course, a smartphone can do all of this: It connects to the Internet, it can use its camera to scan barcodes, it can accept voice input. So why make yet another gadget?  

I think at least part of it lies in the barcode scanner. Having worked retail in the past, I can tell you that a laser-based barcode scanner is generally quicker and more reliable at reading barcodes than a smartphone. You don’t have to worry as much about getting the focus “just right” as you do with a barcode scanning app that relies on your smartphone camera.

dash2 Image: Amazon

There’s also the fact that a smartphone, with its glass screen, can be more easily damaged in a drop, and you probably don’t want to handle a smartphone if your hands are messy from cooking.

Sure enough, Amazon pitches the Dash as something you can hand off your kids for them to use, and talks up how you don’t have to worry about getting it a little messy.

With those two factors in mind, a dedicated device makes more sense.

If you want to give Amazon Dash a try, you can sign up to receive a free one from Amazon. For now, Amazon is only giving them out on an invitation-only basis, so you may not get one, even if you sign up—at least not right away.

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