Amazon was created in 1994 as a novel way to buy books, and for more than 10 years, the Seattle-based company stuck with that business model. As internet use exploded, Amazon started to sell more products — video games, DVDs, electrical goods. In 2006, the company made a departure from this model, detailing plans for its first major piece of hardware. Naturally, for the world's biggest bookseller, it was a novel way to buy its books: the Kindle.
An early model of the Kindle was leaked in September of that year, but it was November 2007 when the device finally went on sale in the United States. It was an ugly, angular creation, with offset keys that threatened to tumble from the keyboard and a creamy color scheme that looked like a PC purchased in 2001, but the core idea was solid. Over the next few years, Amazon rapidly iterated on its e-reader, making it thinner, clearer, brighter, and more responsive, before turning it into a full-fledged tablet to compete with iPads and Android devices. As Amazon helped changed how we bought books, the company also did its part in popularizing e-readers, changing how we consume them, and securing millions of repeat customers in the process.
Perhaps emboldened by the success of Kindle, Amazon has continued its experiments in recent years. In addition to books, blenders, and baby clothes, shoppers in the US can now order their groceries using AmazonFresh, or pick up their goods from unattended lockers like assassins collecting dead drops. The company has pursued outlandish concepts as it has grown, staffing its warehouses with orange bumpercar-esque robots and promising to deliver products by drone, but it has also followed market trends with products such as Fire TV.
But even as it diversified, Amazon has remembered its core business. Amazon's e-readers, tablets, and set-top boxes are ways for users to buy into its vast stores of digital media; its new delivery services are ways to bring its warehouses' physical products to you faster.
Next up, Amazon plans to release its own phone. It's a risk: while the success of the Kindle shows it has hardware nous, it'll be pushing the device into a crowded and difficult market. We'll have to wait a few years to see how successful the device becomes, but before that, we'll need to know how it works. Follow The Verge's liveblog of today's Amazon event to see the first public unveiling of the company's next step.
- Amazon announced its "frustration-free packaging" initiative in 2008. The company made efforts to do away with oversized plastic containers that necessitated both scissors and accidental bloodshed to open, replacing them with tear-open wallets and easily accessible boxes.
- The first Kindle was only available in the US, and retailed for a hefty $399, but still managed to sell out in 5 1/2 hours. Its design was quickly rounded in future models, but both the keyboard and the page-control buttons remained in place for subsequent iterations. (brewbooks / Flickr)
- The Kindle DX looked markedly similar to the second generation Kindle, but its wider body, smaller bezels, and shrunken keyboard afforded the device a larger screen than before. The DX launched in 2009. Another version of the model, the DX Graphite, came a year later.
- Amazon started offering grocery delivery through AmazonFresh in August 2007, but the service spent six years confined to select neighborhoods in Seattle. In 2013, Amazon widened its delivery areas to include Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- The fourth generation Kindle made do without a keyboard. It was smaller in the hand, and a much smaller hit on the wallet, retailing for $79 with ad support. The next model, the Kindle Touch, removed almost all of the device's buttons. Users instead relied on a touch screen.
- Amazon bought robotics firm Kiva Systems in 2012, and with it, a fleet of orange shoe-shaped robots. The robots are capable of collecting and carrying shelves of goods around the firm's many warehouses.
- The 7-inch Kindle Fire didn't stack up incredibly well against other tablets of a similar size in terms of features, but it was cheap. The Android-powered device retailed for $199, a price low enough to make buying into Amazon's ecosystem a worthwhile decision for many consumers.
- Customers in cities such as New York, Washington DC, London, and Amazon's hometown of Seattle can choose to have their products delivered to lockers in selected convenience stores. Packages must be small enough to fit in, but the service is designed to avoid missed deliveries.
- The Kindle Fire HDX's Mayday button connects users with Amazon's customer service department. The average response time is less than ten seconds, but it's not always used for genuine technical problems: operators have reportedly been asked to sing happy birthday to customers.
- A huge Amazon locker appeared in San Francisco earlier this year. It was the subject of much speculation, before the ruse was revealed — the locker housed a giveaway, sponsored by car manufacturer Nissan. The winner would receive a truck in an Amazon box.
- Fire TV is Amazon's attempt to challenge cable-TV monopolies in the US by pushing its huge catalog of movies, TV shows, and games onto living room TVs. Fire TV supports apps such as Netflix, but as with most of the company's products, it works best with content purchased from Amazon itself.
- Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos took to TV late last year to promise his company would soon start using drones to deliver packages. The FAA doesn't currently have guidelines for such a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, but Amazon says it expects the rules to be in place by 2015.