Two nights ago I had real trouble sleeping and in one fitful flop, I solidly clotheslined my alarm clock with the business end of my pillow. Knowing that most manufacturers drop test there products from three feet onto hardwood surfaces, I was reasonably certain that the clock would be ok. I heard batteries take a long roll under the bed and that was enough for me to forget about it until the morning. Once the clock was fully assembled I was disappointed to find that the speaker wasn’t working anymore. My face sunk as I remembered how difficult it was to find an acceptable alarm clock the last time I was shopping for one.
In college I participated in a design competition for what was then the world’s largest clock manufacturer (they have since been sold or gobbled up by someone else). I understand the struggle they have to be profitable. There are lots of things that tell time now. Because of cell phones, nobody wears a wristwatch unless they like jewelry. If you add a clock to something else, it cheapens it. How many products do you know that are like this? Think of the king of does-it-all: the swiss army knife. Nice. Expensive. Now add a little LCD clock to it. Junk. Weird isn’t it? Once you get past styling, functionality and performance what are you left with to differentiate yourself? Features! What else can we pack into this little box? Ugggh! If I wanted all that other stuff I would have bought something that does those things primarily and happens to tell time.
I’m not saying variety is a bad thing because everyone will have slightly different priorities. For example, my bad eyesight makes large numbers a real plus. On the other hand, you might want the smallest clock you can find because your night stand is tiny. If someone is buying an alarm clock, it is because that is primarily what they want it to do. Focus on making a good alarm clock not a waffle iron with a snooze feature.
What I look for in a clock:
2. Decent looking (I would love to say beautiful but options are limited)
3. Snooze bar is the only button on the top of the clock that does anything in run mode
4. Large display
5. Absolutely no light emitted unless I push the light button
7. Simple interface – dedicated buttons and switches for each function
8. Low wide profile/stable base
9. Back light
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of clocks available but you would be amazed at how few of them meet these simple criteria. After my pillow fight, I did some online shopping. After five minutes of dedicated looking I could not find one clock that would be a suitable replacement. That is crazy! I could look up the picky differences between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA in less time. The closest I came was this at Target. I actually thought I had found an upgrade for a few minutes. I was going to get everything I wanted and always visible alarm time. They couldn’t resist. They had to stick in a solar feature (which would have been fine if it worked). The problem is that they did it at the expense of the basic features of the clock. Look at the customer comments!
Why doesn’t a clock e-tailer design a website that allows the user to search the top 50 features on clocks in checkbox format? To stem the tide of comments (which would be great to get on the blog to stimulate discussion rather than in an email just to me), I know that there are websites with this idea in a limited capacity but it loses almost all of the effectiveness if the user cannot drill down to the one or ten clocks they are really interested in. Why not have searchable tags on the clocks? This is different than a standard Google-like word indexing. If I type “battery powered” in a traditional search it will return battery powered clocks, solar clocks that don’t require batteries, line voltage clocks with battery backup, etc.
This story does have a happy ending. After disassembling the clock, checking every connection and putting it back together again it magically worked. I’m not sure what the problem was but I am very glad that it is fixed. I wonder if decent basic alarm clocks are even made anymore.