The De-Evolution of Alarm Clocks

by Dave Michels

I am a professional tech consumer – my wife complains about my graveyard of early adopter trophies – including winners like the first (5 GB) ipod(with a real wheel) and losers like my Rocket Ebook reader.

Perhaps my first bit of technology I got was my “Realistic” Alarm Clock. I remember it vividly – way ahead of those stupid analog clocks with the 12 hour alarm. It was one of those flash card alarm clocks(those were so cool). It had a 24 hour alarm, AM/FM, snooze, and illumination that was easy on the eyes. It wasn’t as cool as my sister’s Hitachi alarm clock (it had wheeled numbers intead of cards though) that had one (still today) very unique feature where the radio could be soft at night (sleep) and loud in the morning (alarm). As a result, I didn’t get to use my sleep feature very much. Although it didn’t really matter, I remember there was a soft click before the radio blared in the morning and my brain soon recognized that click to the point I could reach out and hit snooze before the radio even made a sound.

I remember a lot of alarm clocks. I remember my brother got the top of the line clock (ever made) back in the 70s. It was called a GE Great Awakening. It had a full keypad so you can press the exact time you wanted to wake up instead of scrolling through the hours/minutes. I remember him complaining the clock didn’t have a calculator which at the time seemed pretty stupid to me, but I must admit I have woken with a dire need to complete an obscure calculation.

I was among the first (early adopter again) to buy one of these clocks that projects the time on the ceiling. I am on my third one now. They are great, I can’t read things near anymore without glasses, but my distance vision is fine. I like the one that also displays the outside temp on the ceiling. All of these have been “atomic” clocks which is brilliant in my opinion. Finally a clock that I can assume is correct. But these atomic clocks and projectors as cool as they are, have much to be desired in the human interface department (and they are all the same?). I find setting the alarm to be far too difficult – I actually opt to just be late instead of going thru the ritual sometimes. Don’t even get me going on changing the radio station.

I don’t have my Realistic alarm clock any more. I do have a very old Sony though, one of the first Dream Machines. I think I got it in the mid 80s. It is a great clock. It has a nice green glow (LCD), 2 alarms, and concept of day of the week. I used to use it M-F and could sleep in during the weekends without fear of forgetting to set the alarm on Sunday night. Now I use it in the mountains and it goes off on Sat and Sun so I can get the kids to the slopes before their groups leave. The Sony has a great human interface, but no projector.

Which brings me to the point of this blog. I decided to set out and find a great alarm clock. But much to my dismay, it could not be found. In fact, I was shocked to discover the state of the alarm clock selection today.

The vast majority are LEDs – too bright on the eyes. Gone are the days of flash cards. I think the LCDs, which are also quite popular, are preferable.

I could not find one that understood low volume in sleep mode and high volume in alarm mode.

I could not find one that understood day of the week.

I could not find one with a full keypad (or a calculator).

These features may indeed exist, but they certainly are noted or touted in the descriptions.

Of course the big deal now is IPOD compatible clocks which seem spretty silly to me.
I never understood the CD clocks either. Going to sleep you may want to hear some nice relaxing favorites, but I don’t like the idea of waking to a favorite as I am sure it will mean it won’t be a favorite for long. Not to mention these IPOD clocks are very pricey. Must be a licensing thing.

I did find quite a few projector models, but they were all basically identical in terms of features and user interface. None with good acoustics or human features.

I really think that in the area of alarm clock radios, we are going backwards. I hoped Sony still remembered, but I am sorry to report that their current line of Dream Machines are no better than all those other clock radios out there. Probably a result of their own success (since they don’t appear to ever break). I also tried out Radio Shack for their current line of Realistic models, but found the usual suspects there too. They dropped their Realistic brand in lieu of an assortment of brands – they have multipe IPOD models, some atomic projector clocks, and several also-ran models from Phillips and Timex.

I am so sad, I think I will sleep in.

– Dave