Good Thinking

Reinventing the Clock

Reinventing the Clock
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November 8, 2006 This is huge we tell ya – huge! We’ve written about Ambient Devices before – it’s a very clever company that produces “glanceable” information displays to provide people with constant awareness of important information, but without increasing anxiety due to information overload. Ambient's vision is to embed information representation into everyday objects such as lamps, pens, watches, walls, and wearables so the physical environment becomes an interface to digital information rendered in subtle changes in form, movement sound, colour or light. Now the company is working on a tabletop clock that integrates and displays your daily calendar schedule and the equally innovative design process is garnering input directly from Google Calendar users. This population consists largely of "Lead Users," defined by Dr. Eric von Hippel from the MIT Sloan School of Management as customers at the "leading edge" that are currently experiencing needs that will later be experienced by the majority (you!). You can setup and test your own online version of the clock here and integrate it into your Google Homepage or Google Desktop and there are alternate designs available for viewing and comment. Like we said ... HUGE!

"A clock itself is a perfect example of an Ambient device - non-intrusive, glanceable, undemanding, uncomplicated, quietly waiting in your periphery for you to attend to it,” says Ambient CEO David Rose. “I'm proud that we've been able to add a subtle layer of useful information around the perimeter of such a time-tested, pervasive device as a clock."

The project lead for the Ambient Clock is Sanjay Vakil, an MIT PhD who has developed next generation aircraft cockpit displays. Vakil commented that, "This is the first time a web-based Google Gadget is being used by thousands of customers to refine a tangible product in development. The process provides crucial insights through customer feedback into preferences and usage patterns and allows rapid design iterations."

Ambient will select the winning clock design to manufacture and sell based on design feedback from the online gadget.

Finally, though the clock is being touted as working with Google Calendar, we suspect that the other six billion people in the world will also want to use it and logically, at some stage, it’ll work with other calendar/schedulers too. In the meantime though, this is way useful and we suspect it is the beginning of a new chapter in the evolution of the clock, probably a catalyst for the next chapter in the evolution of the wristwatch, a massive visibility boost for the very clever people at Ambient and yet another carefully orchestrated move in Google's plan for global domination. Indeed, if there's anybody out there using the internet who doesn't use Google's services in some way or another, we'd lay London-to-a-brick they'll be looking at Google Calendar sometime in the next few weeks.

We can already see it being used as a meeting closer – “as you can see, my Ambient Device is reminding me that I have another meeting starting soon …”

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