Clock radios: can’t we do better?

Skimming through the story of a fellow that hacked together his own atomic clock in his basement (and used two of them to prove gravitational time dilation during a mountaintop holiday), I was struck by the very sorry state of our familiar home timepieces.

Exhibit A: the clock radio. These persnickety devices reached their design apex during the 70s. In all the time since, the only enhancements we've witnessed are a profusion of blue LEDs and iPod sockets. Meanwhile, we suffer:

  1. miserable timekeeping accuracy;
  2. terrible radio reception and sound quality;
  3. infarction-inducing buzzers;
  4. tedious and minuscule controls;
  5. nine-minute snooze intervals (why nine?);
  6. displays that render 0, 6, 8, and 9 almost identically; and
  7. poor or non-existent blackout protection (sigh).

In fairness, some of these grievances have been addressed in isolation. But given that so many of us use and depend on these contraptions at least five days out of seven, we're left wondering how the free market hasn't led us to a clock radio that satisfies our every desire:

  1. Radio clocks (not to be confused with clock radios) synchronize themselves automatically to government-broadcast atomic clock time signals. I am informed by a couple of local radio-frequency experts that these long wave transmissions do reach Whitehorse. GPS time coordination is another option, given an external antenna. A good quartz crystal backup is acceptable.
  2. We're going to be plunking down more for this ideal clock anyway, so go ahead and equip it with reasonable audio and automatic station tuning.
  3. Replace the buzzer with a selection of soothing melodies that gradually increase in volume when the alarm goes off. A friend had a simple travel-sized Braun that did this.
  4. We have the perfect technology for controlling clocks: voice recognition. Announcing "alarm at six AM" is infinitely preferable to sliding knobs and pressing chords of buttons. Since setting the time is no longer an issue (see #1), the clock would only have to recognize a few common commands: "alarm", "snooze", "shut the %$&@ up", and so on. Also, if the alarm is set for between 5 and 9 in the afternoon, maybe the clock should confirm that you didn't instead mean AM.
  5. Configurable snoozes are a dream -- so to speak -- of mine. Just imagine being able to utter "snooze for half an hour" instead of having to whack the button three times in twenty-seven minutes. And I wouldn't object to a power-nap timer: "alarm in twenty minutes."
  6. A small LCD display (with ambient-light-sensing brightness adjustment) should be cheap enough these days. And if voice recognition is possible, how about a clock that answers your question with, "It is four o'clock in the morning. Two more hours until the alarm." All in a soothing voice.
  7. A frickin' battery should suffice; it might have to be a little bigger than usual to drive all of the necessary electronics. For some bizarre reason, my clock radio actually gains minutes per hour when running on battery. Obviously, the clock should re-synchronize when the power returns.

Now, how much would you expect to pay for this wonder clock? Wait. Don't answer. What if I also said that it could beam the correct time directly into your cerebral cortex...

Archived Comments

  1. Brian on 20071213.Thursday:
    Speaking of beaming, what about the technology that beams the time on the ceiling so you don't need to utter a word (if you can open your eyes). It's an very small LCD in "negative" mode backed by an LED with optics to focus the resulting image on the ceiling; easily run with batteries. brian
  2. Dave on 20071213.Thursday:
    Yes, but at that point you'd also need a mirror ball and an 8-track of KC and the Sunshine Band to really pull off the "look." And the zeros still look like eights in my opinion.