I don’t know about you, but my world is infested with beeping machines, from my car to our microwave oven to my wife’s flip phone and our dishwasher. Beep! Beep! Beep! Some are even so stupid as to never time out – forcing me to find the source of the beep, not always easy in a three-story house, to shut the damn offending gizmo off.
I’m certainly not opposed to alerts and notifications, in fact LetMeKnow was one of my many startups that didn’t go anywhere, as during the customer discovery process I learned that my target market was wedded to using Twitter to alert their followers and had no interest in my specialized mobile phone alert app.
I do understand the historic origins of the beep. Decades ago memory was measured in bytes, or eventually kilobytes. That’s right folks, Bob Frankston wrote VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet in 16 kb! Try that coding hot shots! So bits and bytes were hoarded, which lead Dan Bricklin, the designer of VisiCalc, to substitute inscrutable commands consisting of a slash followed by the initial letter of the command – he didn’t want to spend bytes on entire words. By the time the IBM PC launched and eclipsed the Apple II, birthplace of VisiCalc and hundreds of other apps, then known as programs or software, memory was in sufficient supply to enable Mitch Kapor to not only use entire words in his command line but also to package together a spreadsheet and a graphing program – a winning combination.
But enough of history! Today we are blessed with gigabytes of memory. Even my dishwasher probably has more memory and computing power than the Apple II. Yet we are still stuck with this infernal beeping. The shining star in nagging customers elegantly is the smartphone, however. Ringtones became an industry in and of themselves in the early days of the lowly flip phone and today I have such ringtones as Apex, Beacon, Hillside, Playtime, Ripples and Sencha. Yeah, and a free trip to Cupertino for anyone who can tell me the rest of the ringtone set without reference to their iPhone. Users loved ringtones and the ability to change the sound of their notifications. Not only are they fun, but it increased the chances that they could tell their ringing phone from everyone else’s.
Now in an endeavor to deliver the smart home we have refrigerators with cameras inside them so we can see what’s inside and what’s not when shopping. So manufacturers please don’t tell me your gadget lacks the memory or processing power to deliver a pleasant chime or other calm notification. And why can’t I buy a microware oven alert from Brian Eno? Brian would have a whole new income stream and my early morning ill humor would be banished as I listened to a calming chorus of ambient sound alerts from my cluster of kitchen appliances.
Not being the political type I have no idea how to get today’s appliance (and car) designers to banish the beep, or at least reserve the beep for when it’s needed as an alarm, not just a simple notification. Personally I’d still prefer the sound of waves crashing on a beach when my phone wants to tell me it needs recharging. But your tastes may differ, which is my whole point; the 21st century is the age of personalization. Wake up designers and banish the beep!