Amazon generates more revenue than any other internet company. In 2016, it brought in around $107 billion, beating out Alphabet’s $89 billion and Facebook’s $27 billion. Impressive, to say the least, and none of it would’ve been possible without Amazon’s forward-thinking mindset.
Several industries have been revolutionized by Amazon, and we tend to take their technological advancements for granted. Is Amazon a perfect company? Not even close. But if Amazon disappeared overnight, it would certainly be a hard loss for consumers like you and me.
Here are some of the more nifty technologies that Amazon brought to the masses.
1. 1-Click Checkout
According to Mintel’s Online Shopping U.S. 2015 Report, more than two-thirds of internet-using adults shop online at least once per month. In fact, about one-third of internet-using adults shop online at least once per week! Online shopping is now the norm thanks to Amazon.
Consider this timeline: the internet comes to life in 1991, Amazon launches in 1995, 1-Click Checkout is patented and introduced in 1999, and Amazon solidifies its lead with free 2-day shipping when Prime is launched in 2005. In just 10 years, Amazon transformed the gimmick of online shopping into a faster, more convenient, and preferable alternative to brick-and-mortar shopping.
Much of this is due to the surprisingly simple concept of 1-Click Checkout. By saving your shipping address and payment method to your account, you can instantly purchase any item with a single click. Apple would go on to license the tech for incorporation in the Apple Store and iTunes Store.
2. Automated Warehouses
Before Amazon upended the world of online shopping with free 2-day shipping, it was normal for deliveries to take 5–10 business days. Now any delivery that takes longer than two days is felt as an inconvenience. Oh, how far we’ve come — and other companies are still playing catch-up.
How does Amazon manage this? Well, much of it comes down to its automated warehouses. Most Amazon warehouses, at least in the U.S., now use a network of Roomba-like robots that scurry around to pick up and drop off warehouse shelves as they’re needed. These robots are controlled by a central system that knows where every item is located and the most efficient way to direct the network so that all orders are fulfilled on time.
The robots, which are produced and maintained by Amazon Robotics (formerly Kiva Systems), play a major role in Amazon’s ability to fast-deliver to consumers. And if you thought 2-day shipping was fast, your mind will explode when you hear of Prime Now’s 2-hour delivery.
3. No-Cashier Stores
Imagine a store where you can walk in, grab whatever you want off the shelves, and walk out. No need for a cashier to ring up your items. No need to deal with a self-checkout kiosk. No lines at all because there’s no bottleneck. Walk in, grab, walk out. How awesome would that be?
Well, Amazon is working to make that a reality with Amazon Go.
Instead of checking out, you just check in with the Amazon Go mobile app. The store uses a complex system of cameras, sensors, and deep-learning algorithms to track the items you pick. When you walk out, the system charges your account (the details of which are stored on the mobile app).
The first public store was slated for March 2017 but the opening was delayed due to technical issues — the tracking systems failed when more than 20 customers were present. Amazon Go stores will focus mainly on grocery and convenience items, but if all of the kinks can be ironed out, it wouldn’t be surprising if other stores picked up on the concept.
4. E-Ink Display
Amazon broke a lot of ground for authors and readers with the Kindle. It popularized the idea of ebooks over paper books, which made it easier for writers to self-publish. As more and more books are made available in digital format, readers have an easier time because they can carry around thousands of stories on a lightweight device.
And while all of that is awesome, the real revolution was the E-Ink display. If you don’t have a Kindle yet, this right here is why you should grab one ASAP.
A typical tablet device has an LCD display, which uses a backlight to create text and images. When reading an ebook, you’re basically staring at a light source. This won’t cause permanent damage, but can contribute to eye strain and fatigue — both undesirable for extended reading sessions.
E-Ink is a patented display technology that aims to emulate the experience of ink on paper. No backlight is involved. Instead, each “pixel” on an E-Ink display contains millions of tiny capsules (either black or white) and uses electrical currents to control how much of each pigment is showed at a given time. Because of this, E-Ink only supports grayscale colors and requires ambient lighting.
To be clear, Amazon didn’t invent E-Ink technology and wasn’t even the first to produce an E-Ink device. However, E-Ink didn’t take off until Amazon’s first Kindle in 2007, which sold out within six hours of release, so we think it’s fair to say that E-Ink wouldn’t be what it is today without Amazon.
5. On-Demand Cloud Computing
Over the last few years, “cloud computing” has become quite a buzzword (an oft-misused one at that). What a lot of people don’t realize is that cloud computing has actually been around since the early 90s, but only for businesses. Amazon was the one who popularized it for consumers.
In 2006, Amazon launched Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which allowed users to run applications on Amazon’s virtual servers (“the cloud”) and pay by the hour. This service later evolved to include other services that all became known as Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Why is AWS important? Because a good chunk of the modern web now relies on AWS for their operations. In the rare occasion that AWS services are knocked offline — notable examples being October 2012 and February 2017 — the whole web feels it. Netflix, Reddit, Spotify, Airbnb, Expedia, and even the CDC all rely on AWS to some degree.
Even now, a decade later, AWS sits at the top because its two main competitors were late to the game: Microsoft Azure and Rackspace both launched cloud computing services in 2010, four full years after Amazon.
How do you feel about Amazon? Have they done good work or would we be better off if Amazon had never come on the scene? Share your thoughts in a comment down below!