Tag Archives: Time

The Alarm Clock is Dead, Long Live the Cellphone

image

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.

del.icio.us Tags: ,,,

Clock Shock

Clocky1

For those of you who can’t get out of bed in the morning, the alarm clock that outwits you is finally here. I mentioned Clocky in a WSJ column more than a year ago in talking about the problems of ignored alarms:

Efforts to overcome this problem have been inventive, but rarely successful, says Gauri Nanda, a 26-year-old graduate student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. “Just last week a man told me he currently uses three alarm clocks and then asks his friends to hide them,” she says. Ms. Nanda’s solution: an alarm clock called Clocky equipped with outsize wheels and shockproof covering (early prototypes are wrapped in brown shag), that goes off and then, when its snooze button is pressed, skedaddles across the room and hides, requiring owners to get out of bed and find it. By the time they have, the thinking goes, Clocky has done its job because they’re out of bed and wide awake, if a little frustrated.

Gauri tells me the clock is now out and about, although it’s dropped the shaggy pile in favor of robust rubber and plastic, leaping off your nightstand and running erratically around the room making an annoying, R2D2–like noise. (see a video here.)

 I think it’s a great idea, although it’s not the only annoying alarm clock on the market. Uberreview lists some others, including:

Gadgets That Are Stupid, #2

In the second of my series on 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” I present the bedside console of The Wharney Hotel in Hong Kong.

These kind of things are popular in hotels and this room is brand spanking new. And on the surface everything looks to be there and in the right place: clock, alarm, do not disturb, radio, buttons for each light and a master switch.

But the same old problems linger: Every button — and the red LED that comes with it — looks pretty much the same. There’s no real logic to the layout — lighting buttons are both on the far left and far right of the console, for example — and there’s nothing really obvious to distinguish between a button to change the alarm and one to turn a light off. Try to find the right switch in the darkness in the middle of the night and you’re as likely to start-up some muzak (which seems to come from under the bed) as you are to raise the lights. I noticed, too, that the radio channels on a similar console in the bathroom are different to those in the bedroom.

But most irritating is the piercing beep that accompanies every press of a button. While the only person to get disturbed by this is my cuddly reindeer Mr. C, I would imagine that spouses, partners or other family members sleeping in the same room would not be delighted to hear a symphony of monophonic, monotonic beeps accompany every clumsy midnight trip to the bathroom.

When are designers going to get a grip on this kind of thing?

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.

Valentine’s Day – A Humbug Approach

It’s that time of year, and the marketing folk are back with lame Valentine’s promotions.

My first is from Audible.com, where I must have registered at some point, because I got an email with the subject field ‘Someone has sent you a Valentine!’ along with the following message: ‘Get a special Valentine’s day wish (and a little gift) from Audible.’

The link turns out to be a pretty dull flash presentation, some annoying music that doesn’t stop when the flash animation does, and the ‘gift’ turns out to be a 20% discount at audible.com. Thanks, guys. No, really.

What is perhaps reassuring is a survey from Avantgo, which reports that the majority of folk prefer social introductions to finding true love. Actually I think they’re missed the point; although the survey focuses on preference for traditional dating methods –  only 4% ranked online dating as the best way to meet their Valentine — the fact that 14% of correspondents ‘claimed to be dating, married or engaged to someone they met through an online dating service or social networking site’ is an extraordinary statistic.

Think about it. Most folk don’t like to admit they use dating services, let alone online ones. So the fact that so many people have ‘fessed up is a surprising shift in attitudes. Second, assume the figure is much higher, because of the lingering stigma attached. So it could be as high as 20%. Now, of course, these surveys tend to revolve around early adopters (it was a PDA-based survey, whatever that is) so it’s skewed, but it’s still a significant proportion. The survey tells us that online dating has become normal.

It also, sadly, tells us that folk are using Valentine’s Day as an excuse to exchange presents:  ‘While men plan to give their loved ones traditional gifts such as flowers, dinner out and chocolates, they are secretly hoping to receive an electronic gadget or CD/DVD. A third of respondents plan to spend more than $100 on their Valentine this year.’ Jeez! Do we really need another commercially exploited occasion to prod us guiltily into buying presents? Heaven help us all.

If you do insist on buying stuff, here are some Valentine Panties with built in Internet error codes: “Our HTTPanties Valentine’s Gift Box comes with one pair of white “403 Forbidden” panties and one pair of black “200 OK” panties, packaged in our lovely “Hearts and Stars” heart shaped box. Makes a great gift!” OhmyGod.

I am beginning to see what folk like Joi Ito are talking about when they talk about corrupting holidays. Talking of Japan, the whole Valentine’s thing has gotten way out of hand, primarily because of the confectionary industry. Joi wrote a few weeks back: ‘in Japan only men receive chocolates on Valentine’s Day and that women receive their chocolates on “White Day” one month later. (This notion was introduced by the confectionary industry in Japan.) People are encouraged to give chocolates widely and these chocolates are called giri choko (obligatory indebtedness chocolates) in Japanese.’ Now it’s the handphone industry getting in on the act: Nokia are promoting their handphones in Japan by selling them in a Valentine’s box, along with some chocolates (Thanks Gizmodo and Boing Boing):

I’m never going to celebrate Valentine’s Day again. Ever. After I’ve bought the panties and phone chocs.