Tag Archives: Sleep

The Alarm Clock is Dead, Long Live the Cellphone

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Gadgets, like software and services, often end up being used in ways the creator didn’t intend. But how many companies make the most of this opportunity?

Take the cellphone. More than a third of Brits use their mobile phone as an alarm clock, according to a survey by British hotel chain Travelodge (thanks textually.org):

Budget hotel chain Travelodge quizzed 3,000 respondents on waking up habits and 71% of UK adults claimed that alarm clocks are now obsolete. The faithful bedside companion has been cast off in favour of the modern must-have, a mobile phone. Sixteen million Brits (36%) now prefer using the latest ring tone to rouse them from sleep rather than the shrill bleeping of an alarm clock.

Why? The article doesn’t say, but the answers are pretty obvious:

  • Who wants to take an extra device with you when you travel?
  • Ever come across an alarm clock with a dozen different ring tones?
  • Ever tried to program an alarm clock you’re not familiar with?
  • Ever tried to rely on wake up services?
  • Most alarm clocks are badly designed.

This might even reveal itself in the Alarm Clock Law: if another device can handle the task of a dumber gadget, it will replace it. So does that mean that the alarm clock is dead?

Not exactly. The alarm clock performs a single function: wake the person up. But that has turned out not to be as easy as it looks. While the design of most alarm clocks have been outsourced to the brain-dead, other designers have recognised the potential of alarm clocks that don’t merely wake up the owner, but keep them awake long enough to get up.

This list, for example, illustrates the thriving world of alarm clock design (think Clocky, that has wheels and has wheels and . And in this post about Seth Godin last September there was a bunch of responses suggesting that in fact alarm clock designers have tried to add features to make the alarm clock relevant. As one of the commenters pointed out, the problem is that we’re just not ready to pay more for those features because alarm clocks have become a commodity.

I suspect it’s a bit more complicated than this. There may be other factors:

  • the decline of radio, and therefore the decline of alarm-clock-radios (34% of respondents wake up to the radio in the Travelodge survey);
  • We travel more and carry more gadgets with us, so something had to stay behind;
  • As home alarm clocks became more sophisticated (music, radio, mains-powered) so we were less likely to take them on the road with us;
  • Then there’s security: I know I stopped bringing an old-style ticking alarm clock with me because it made airport security professionals nervous.

Perhaps most important, we have developed a comfort level with our cellphone’s inner workings, and few of us would like to entrust a morning alarm to something or someone we don’t know.

Cellphone manufacturers, to their credit, seem to have acknowledged this new role: I tried to find the alarm function on a Nokia 6120 and did so in five seconds. I bet it would take me longer on any digital alarm clock. The process is quick and painless, and a little bell logo on the home screen reassuringly indicates it’s set. The alarm itself is cute and starts out unobtrusively but then gets louder until you’re up and about.

Or, more ominously, have thrown the phone across the room where it now sits in pieces. Maybe there is something to be said for keeping the alarm clock separate.

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The Price Of Sleep: 70 Cents A Minute

I know it makes commercial sense, but it’s still galling to realise that in our fast urban world, we are getting used to paying for everything. First it was bottled water, then bottled air, now it’s sleep.

New York’s MetroNaps is getting quite a bit of coverage of late — in Wired, the NYT, the New York Sun – as a company that offers pods for taking midday naps in. Wired quotes company founder Arshad Chowdhury as saying his research indicated “people would pay to take a nap, but they only wanted to go about six minutes out of their way to get one”. So far they have one in the Empire State Building and Vancouver Airport, but should we expect MetroNaps on as many corners as Starbucks? At $14 for a 20 minute nap that’s as expensive a hobby as coffee.

Now, I’m a huge fan of naps, and offering folk a place to lie down is not particularly new — good airports have totally quiet environments where you can lay back without looking like a refugee. But is it just me, or is there something pretty sad going on when we sneak a few blocks to grab a doze away from our desk? I can understand why someone in town for the day might want to put their feet up, but are our places of work so bad that we can’t provide this kind of facility to our workers there? Or, for that matter, why can’t cafes provide a place to snooze (what happens if you try that in Starbucks?)?

If napping is such a good idea let’s make it part of the furniture, not turn it into a business. I was going to ask MetroNap more about this, but it seems their site is down right now. Taking a nap, as it were.

Gadgets That Are Stupid, #1

I thought I would start a fresh series of Gadgets That Are Stupid: gizmos that seem to do things right but suffer a design flaw that renders them hazardous to one’s health, or peace of mind, or that of one’s partner. Here’s the first entry: An alarm clock.

On the surface an excellent purchase: It even tells you the temperature. But get this: To turn on the backlight you have to press the alarm sleep button, which beeps when you press it. So you wake up in the middle of the night, want to see what the time is, slide carefully across the bed so as not to wake your beloved, press the alarm sleep button, only to set off a (relatively) deafening beep. How dumb is that?

I’ve looked hard in the manual and on the back to see whether the beep can be disabled. As far as I can see, it can’t. So I have a very sophisticated piece of gadgetry on my bedside table, that can tell me the temperature, the time in Lima and how to build a nuclear power plant out of old USB cables, but which I have to carry off to the bathroom so I can read the display without marital disharmony. Winner of this week’s Dumb Gadget Award.

More submissions gratefully received.