Starting over ten years ago, a long-running joke on this blog has been my fascination with (and mockery of) the recurring need inventors (including those who work for huge technology companies) have to re-invent the Cuecat. For those who don’t recognize the term Cuecat as the punchline of a joke, I suggest a rapid glance at its Wikipedia entry and the wonderful one-liner by the late Debbie Barham, the comic and humor writer who said the Cuecat “fails to solve a problem which never existed.”
A couple of years ago, I referred to the repetitive reinvention of the Cuecat as the
Cuecat Conjecture, based on what must be a shared hypothesis among a small group of inventors that human beings have a primeval desire to own a personal barcode scanner they can hold up to anything in order to buy it from Amazon.com.
The most recent Re-Cuecats have been from Amazon.com, itself. My November, 2011 post described the Amazon iPhone app released in 2011 called Flow (that’s still around) as an attempted Re-Cuecat. The app was met with a yawn, however, three years later, in November, 2013, Amazon ported Flow’s Cuecat feature over to an app people actually download, The Amazon App.”
With Amazon’s introduction of Cuecat-like features into apps during the past few years, the term “showrooming” has been used to describe what Amazon is actually encouraging shoppers to do with such technology: Research while shopping in a physical store, and then order from Amazon. (See, also: webrooming as a buzzword to describe the opposite of showrooming.) While showrooming sounds like something that could be done with a simple barcode or QR code scanner, the technology that started with “Flow” can also recognize photos, logos or other patterns that make up the graphics of a book cover or product packaging. Amazon is seeking to circumvent QR/bar codes as big box retailers have demanded their largest suppliers to provide unique QR/bar codes or sizes that do not match precisely Amazon SKUs. By using packaging labeling rather than standard codes, Amazon can update its databases to recognize any packaging unique to chains like Target or Walmart.
Last Friday, Amazon introduced the Amazon Dash, the most recent update (refresh?) of the Cuecat. At first, I was convinced that it was a belated April 1 joke, but no, the new Amazon Dash is for-real. Presently, it is an extremely niche device and is not available for purchase, it’s free (which was also the Cuecat business model). It is a device currently tied to Amazon Fresh, a grocery delivery service available now in Seattle, San Francisco and Southern California. (I’ll skip the history lesson on Web Van.)
The Amazon Dash is a hand-held wand you can use to scan all of the items you need to add to a shopping list (because using an app to do that would be so, well, 2013).
The Amazon Dash clearly fits within the context of Amazon technologists’ belief in the existence of the Cuecat Conjecture (human beings have a primeval desire to own a personal barcode scanner they can hold up to anything in order to buy it from Amazon.com).
It will also be next in line of Re-Cuecats that fail to solve a problem which never existed.
Confession: I’m beginning to cheer for the inventors.
(Thanks to my friend, Jay Graves, who convinced me the Amazon Dash wasn’t related to April Fool’s Day.)