The Amazon Button first-hand: an unterappreciated marvel

Huggies button

Did you know Amazon sells little thingies that consist of:

  • a WiFi antenna
  • a single button
  • and a big battery, in a cute little 2in-package?

They only know how to do one thing: you push the button, the thingie connects to Amazon via your WiFi, and tells Amazon you pushed the button. That’s all.

Actually, if you ignore that Amazon wants you to plaster them all over your house so your toddlers can order 123 packages of Huggies before breakfast, then it’s marvelous.

And it only costs $4.99. So I bought two. One to take apart, and one to play around with. It turned out to be the Huggies-branded one, just because. (No, the family has been out of that age for a while.)

Here’s how you set it up:

  • You use the Amazon App the shopping-minded of you (i.e. not me) have on their iPhone already.
  • You push the button, so the device wakes up.
  • The app talks to the button, using sound! It sounded rather strange, like robot clicking noises (ha!) so the button could pick up WiFi information from the iPhone.
  • In my case that failed (not because of Amazon, but because of the paranoid WiFi setup I have), so the app activated fallback: the button becomes a WiFi hotspot itself, and you connect to it as your WiFi access to point so you can enter the information about your real WiFi. (Lots of devices, like my WiFi scale, use that approach; clumsy as hell, but works eventually)
  • And then the app says “which Huggies would you like to reorder when the button is pressed”?

Amazon clearly has Huggies sponsor those buttons, because I can’t get it to order something else than Huggies. Which is an interesting business model! And clearly, Amazon cannot cover cost with the $4.99 price tag in this day and age.

But technically, the button must be a marvel: It actually runs a web server (I connected with the browser to when it went into AP mode and a bare-bones HTML form came up) so chances are there’s some kind of mini-Linux in there. When I got a bit of time, I’ll take the other button apart to see what’s inside and report back.

P.S. I want lots of buttons like this for my house. Not to order stuff, but to generate events. Like next to the faucet, so I record my liquid intake — hey, Johannes got another 30oz. Instead of all the light switches, of course. Door bell. And so forth. But what I want is not branded by Huggies, and not hermetically sealed by Amazon, but open-source and open hardware all the way. Anybody building this? If not, please? What about we make it automatically connect to the next UBOS box on the network?