Using a Macintosh for years has deepened my distaste for bad interfaces. I'm not talking about Kai Krause-inspired, rounded-and-buffed software "skins," but rather real-world objects that demand too much work to accomplish a simple task. Specifically, I've grown to despise most alarm clocks, particularly the cheap ones found in hotel rooms.
Using one is fine: read the big glowing letters, activate the alarm before going to bed, whack the noisy beast repeatedly in the morning until it shuts up. But setting an alarm clock is another matter, usually requiring you to hold down an Alarm button to display the alarm time, and then to press Hour and Minute buttons repeatedly until you've hit upon the wake-up time you want. Woe to your fingers if you accidentally miss your desired wakeup time (since that forces you to advance through the day once more like an airplane that's missed its landing approach), and woe to your schedule if you misinterpret an unlabeled dot which indicates "P.M."
Most hotels offer a wakeup call service, so you can skip the alarm clock altogether and wake up to a phone call, but even the nicest hotel employees won't call you every morning at whatever number you happen to be near. Fortunately, a solution can be found on the Web. As part of our ongoing Worthy Web Sites series, consider Mr. WakeUp, one of a handful of related notification services offered by iPing.
Out of Bed, Sleepy Head -- Sharing a trait with many successful Web sites, iPing's basic concept is simple. Once you've registered, you can specify a time and phone number to have Mr. WakeUp call you. If you often carry a cellular phone it doesn't matter where you are, or even what time it is. Need to wake up from a mid-afternoon nap? In a few keystrokes, you can schedule a call.
You can schedule a variety of wakeup calls. A text message call uses text-to-speech technology to read your entered text aloud, or you can have a voice message replayed to you (you can pre-record messages in advance). Similarly, you can choose to hear selected news and business headlines, the day's horoscope reading, fitness tips, or even messages from comedian Tom Green. If you use a few common numbers (home, office, cellular, etc.), they can be entered in your profile to be available in a pop-up menu when setting up new calls. Otherwise, you can also enter any telephone number to dial. At any time, you can check the site to view a list of past and future scheduled calls, and edit or delete them.
The calls themselves are useful, and laced with the expected advertising. The recorded greeting begins immediately, so you don't have to start off with a subconscious "Hello?", then prompts you to hit 1 to proceed, or 9 to block Mr. WakeUp calls to that number. (Unblocking a number requires sending an email message to iPing's support staff.) If you don't respond after three prompts, Mr. WakeUp continues anyway. After an ad plays for 5 to 10 seconds, your message is delivered, along with the time, date, and the local weather.
In my tests, everything worked as advertised, and it woke me up on time. I'd like to see some sort of Mr. Insistent WakeUp: if I can't be reached at one number, try me at others in sequence. It would also be nice if Mr. Wakeup integrated with existing calendar programs so you didn't have to enter events multiple times.
A Family of Helpers -- Mr. WakeUp isn't the only family member in the iPing house, which makes the service more appealing. Ms. Reminder offers calls for appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, and other events (like laundry, trash, and picking up the kids); Mr. Notify enables you to send reminders to groups of people; Ms. FollowUp tracks packages (currently only FedEx) and calls you when they've been delivered; Dr. Dose provides reminders to take medication; and Mr. Dollar calls about financial news.
As someone frequently on the road, I like the ability to set a reminder that doesn't require anything other than a phone to deliver the message. And because iPing is Web-based, I don't even need my PowerBook; a friend's computer or a terminal in an Internet cafe works just as well. I already feel better knowing pesky alarm clocks won't play much of a role in my future.