For an online retailer, Amazon has made a lot of hardware products — some having been more successful than others. But there's one category that Amazon hasn't officially entered yet: wearables.
I had the rare opportunity to ask Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos about his interest in this area at Code Conference this evening, following his on-stage interview with Walt Mossberg (which you should really watch in full, if you have the time). Bezos, not surprisingly, declined to comment on the company's product roadmap — but he also didn't say Amazon wasn't working on wearable tech, either.
"I don't think you've seen the tip of the iceberg yet," Bezos said
"I think it's a super interesting market, and I obviously can't talk about our future roadmap," Bezos said. "But I think that's also in its infancy. I think you're going to see a bunch of different products be successful there, different functions... but I don't think you've seen the tip of the iceberg yet."
I pressed Bezos on whether that means Amazon is exploring wearables, but that only resulted in him dispensing advice to the entrepreneurs in attendance that they should never discuss their product roadmaps. Still, after Mossberg pointed out that he technically had not said "No," Bezos said, "I would never say that."
If Amazon is working on some type of wearable technology, the next obvious question is: to what end? Almost all of Amazon's consumer hardware, to date, has been designed to enable the consumption of other goods. You get a Kindle, you buy more Amazon e-books; you get a Fire TV box or stick, you watch more Prime Video; you get some Dash buttons, you buy more garbage bags or bleach wipes; you can even reorder stuff on Amazon.com by shouting at an Alexa-equipped Amazon speaker. And Bezos underscored this even more today when he said, in regards to streaming video, "When you win a Golden Globe, it helps you sell more shoes. Prime members buy more on Amazon than non-Prime members."
An Amazon wearable would likely be a means to an end: buying more stuff
I would have to think then that an Amazon wearable, if it were to exist, would be designed with the same end-goal in mind: buying more stuff. Some wearables already do this. Apple Watch has Apple Pay, which in my opinion has been one of the more useful features of the smartwatch. Jawbone has a wearable that has a tap-to-pay option for American Express cardholders. And Fitbit recently acquired the startup Coin as part of an effort to get payment technology into its popular activity-tracking wristbands.
But most of these examples are at the point-of-sale, so you have to be in stores for them to work. And Amazon has only just gotten into physical retail stores. So, hypothetically speaking, an Amazon-branded wearable on your body that could help you buy things would have to work differently, at least in the short term. It would have to connect you to online shopping rather than facilitate POS shopping. So maybe an Amazon wearable would be something on your body that ties to... Alexa?
It's not a crazy idea — or a new one. Since wearables are generally tiny devices, with tiny displays, they're not very good input devices. And some already offer voice control as an alternative to navigating micro-menus. You can already "Ok Google" and "Hey Siri" all day long on smartwatches. So it's easy to envision Amazon making some sort of wearable that would be simple, utilitarian in design, with the battery life of a Kindle (Okay, that's wishful thinking), and with an AI built in that was actually responsive. One that, of course, lets you buy things.
But I'm letting my wearables imagination run away a little bit. It's also quite possible that Amazon is letting the whole Wearables 1.0 phase pass while it works on other stuff. The full Code Conference interview with Bezos is below; the wearables question at the very end, along with a question from The Verge's Nilay Patel about Amazon Prime on Apple TV.