Why no advancements in alarm clocks?

Go ahead and take a quick look at your alarm clock. If you're not  home right now, close your eyes and visualize it for a moment. Don't worry, I'll wait. Now that you've got it, try to remember the alarm clock you owned before that one. Now the one before that. If you think about it, the alarm clock hasn't really changed much over the past several years. With all the technological progress we see every day, why have there been no significant advancements in alarm clocks?

Now sure, alarm clocks today have far more bells and whistles than they did years back. We now have radios, stereos, iPod docks, wall projectors, and all sorts of pointless crap in our alarm clocks, but none of these 'features' really changes the core functionality that we care about: waking up at a specifically chosen time (or multiples of ten minutes after said time). When you really break it down, whether you spend $200 or $5, your alarm clock really only allows you to set a time and make the thing beep at you until you hit it. Is that really the best we can do?

For the life of me, I can't figure out why our alarm clocks are the most under developed and least advanced pieces of technology that we own. Why can't someone work on a slick and light weight alarm clock operating system that has more computing power and memory then a basic calculator? Since no one else seems to care, I now offer a short list of suggestions for improving the alarm clock.

Top 5 suggestions for improving the alarm clock

5) Support for Multiple Alarms: This one should be obvious. Even the most advanced alarm clocks I've ever owned only allowed me to set two different wake up times. Then, I can't even use the beeping for the second alarm. The second alarm only applies to the radio setting. Alarm clocks should not just have a digital display, but an actual software operating system with memory that allows me to save an unlimited number of alarms. Which leads me to my next suggestion…

4) Custom Displays & Alerts: If I can save an unlimited number of alarms, I'm going to need a way to tell them apart (other than their time). This is why I need some sort of input for assigning custom names to each alarm set. Additionally, while I'm adding text input to the device, there should be an option to display or scroll a note with the alarm while it's going off. If I've set my alarm for 5:00am, then I know what time it is when it goes off. It would be nice, however, if the face of my alarm could remind me that I have a 6:00am conference call or a test to take that morning.

3) Calendar based alarms with priority triggers: The last couple of alarm clocks that I've purchased come with a nice little feature that allows me to designate which days of the week my alarm with actually go off (any individual day, just weekdays, or just the weekend). I want more control than this. Anytime that I have to adjust my wakeup time to accommodate a trip (or anything that throws off my normal routine), I run the risk of forgetting to set my alarm back the following night. This could all be fixed by a calendar based alarm system. If I knew that on the 14th of next month I were going to need to wake up at 4:00am to get to the airport on time for a flight, I could set a an alarm specifically for that date. Now this is where my priority triggers would come into play.

Obviously my 4:00am on the 14th alarm would going to conflict with my daily alarm which goes off at 5:00am. This conflict could be avoided by assigning the 4:00am on the 14th alarm to a priority of "High". Any alarm set to a high priority would then override all standard reoccurring alarms set for that time period.

2) Remote Configuration and Interaction: In the example above, I left for vacation and was so excited about my alarm clock's priority triggers that I forgot to disable the recurring daily alarm for the week that I was going to be away. This is exactly why alarm clocks should have remote configuration and interaction. We live in a world where just about every device we own has the ability to connect to the internet. Why don't our alarm clocks? I should be able administer my scheduled alarms, priorities, or even disable them all together from my computer, iPhone, or any other network connected device.

1) Proximity (RFID) laziness failsafes (admittedly a little overkill): Ok, this one is a little silly, but there is totally a use for it. I may be crazy, but this feature could totally save my (and your) ass. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've been late somewhere because I fell back asleep after I hopped out of bed and shut off my alarm clock. If I had a secondary (backup) alarm it would really help. If it was proximity aware, using an RFID keychain dongle, it could actually determine for itself whether or not I needed that backup alarm on a case by case basis. Imagine the following scenario:

Lets pretend my schedule looks like this. 5:00am (intended wake up time) [Primary Alarm] 7:00am (intended departure time) 7:15am (last possible second to wake up and not be late) [Secondary Alarm] 7:30am (last possible departure time to not be late)

Now if everything goes as planned, I will depart from my house before my secondary alarm goes off. This means that if I forget to disarm it, my alarm will be ringing all day (or until I remember and find an internet connection so that I can disarm it remotely). This wouldn't be the case with a proximity aware RFID keychain dongle. The secondary alarm would only ever trigger if the keychain was still in range of the alarm clock.

So there you have it. Sure, I may be the only person on the planet crazy enough to put this much thought into something as simple as an alarm clock, but you've got to admit I've envisioned a pretty bad ass alarm clock.

posted by Christopher Schnese