Neil Gupta

Making the Lowly Alarm Clock Smarter

294 words • 2 minutes to read

Every night before I go to bed, I have to think about 3 things:

  1. What time is my first event tomorrow?
  2. What time do I have to wake up to make it to that event?
  3. Who will sit on the Iron Throne next?

Like most people, I use my smartphone’s alarm clock app as my daily alarm. That smartphone also has my calendar and location data. It knows where I have to be tomorrow morning and how long it will take me to get there. Yet it makes me do all the work to figure out when’s the latest I can sleep in. Why doesn’t my phone automatically set an alarm for one hour before I have to leave to make sure I don’t miss my event? Got an event at 9am that’s 30 minutes away? My phone should wake me up at 7:30 automatically.

That would save me from setting an alarm every night, but what about turning it off? If my first event is at 1pm, the alarm would be set for around noon. Most likely, I’ll already be awake by then so there’s no need for the alarm. My phone should be smart enough to figure that out too. If I’ve used my phone for more than 10 minutes, then I’m awake and the automatic alarm can be turned off.

Going even further, it would be nice if my phone beeped when I should go to bed to get my recommended 8 hours of sleep.

These simple changes can make it possible to never have to worry about managing my alarm again. Combining existing data with creative heuristics to reduce our cognitive load is the promise of smartphones, and it’s time the alarm clock app got with the program.

Written on May 24, 2014 in Chicago.