Bonjour alarm clock's creator on waking up to smart design

Why Bonjour's inspiration came not from Nest or Alexa, but a small robot
Bonjour talks smart home design

"When we were designing Bonjour, we asked, 'If we reinvent the alarm clock, what does it look like?'" says Holi's creative CEO Greg Gerard.

The answer, it turns out, was your basic, run-of-the-mill alarm clock. "When people reinvent a product, they think they need to change how it looks. Specifically for the connected devices market. But if it looks like something familiar, people are more likely to use it."

The Bonjour alarm clock, made by Holi, has just launched on Kickstarter to an impressive $470,000 reception at the time of writing. But unlike your basic alarm clock, Bonjour is a connected device in the vein of Amazon Alexa that wants to make your mornings a bit, well, smarter.

Surprisingly it's not so much concerned about your sleep health as it is your lifestyle. Over time Bonjour learns about your preferences and hobbies, and uses its intelligence to proactively change the way your day is planned.

For example, it may detect unusually heavy traffic on your route to work and wake you earlier to ensure you're not late. Or maybe you tell Bonjour to keep an eye on the surf, and it wakes you up early on Sunday if conditions are particularly good - and let you keep sleeping if they're not.

Bonjour alarm clock's creator on waking up to smart design

Bonjour can also talk to other smart home devices like thermostats and lights. If you're getting up earlier than usual one morning it will make sure your Nest switches on earlier too. There's also a display on the front that, when not showing the time, will display things like maps or even a live feed from a security camera, so you can see if the person breaking in is a burglar or just your housemate who's forgotten her keys again.

"We wanted to get something very different to Alexa and Google Home," says Gerard, who tells us Bonjour was heavily inspired by the Jibo robot that raised a whopping $3.7 million in 2014 - but is yet to launch. "The way it was designed was typical of what we wanted to do for Bonjour in how it conveys emotions and is great in terms of design. And it looks very simple to use even if the technology behind it is quite complex."

Bonjour alarm clock's creator on waking up to smart design
Jibo the robot

Gerard talks a lot about the importance of smart home design. After all, you probably wouldn't replace your thermostat for something noticeably uglier just because it can talk to your smartphone. To some extent the same applies to something like an alarm clock. The red dot that signifies Bonjour is processing a command looks a bit HAL 9000, but otherwise it's recognisably familiar.

Speak easy

Important, too, is conversing with tech in a way that doesn't feel too awkward or broken. "People can be annoyed using a trigger word every time," says Gerard. Amazon's Echo and Google Home both require a wake-up phrase each time you speak to them, and even though Alexa has a small handful to choose from, none of these feel natural when you have to repeat them every time you want to get it to do something.

The Bonjour clock does have a wake-up word - it's "Bonjour" - but Gerard says that once you've spoken to it once you'll be able to use follow-up commands and questions without having to repeat the command. Bonjour will also initiate the conversation, and in those cases you'll just need to respond.

We're particularly interested to see how dynamic Bonjour is in processing sentences. Alexa is good, but doesn't always get it right, and what we've seen of Bonjour suggests it might be more flexible with structure and conversational language.

We won't be able to get our hands on one for a while though: Bonjour will ship to early backers starting in June 2017, with a retail release planned for later - priced at $250. It's already hit two of its stretch goals on Kickstarter: compatibility with major music streaming services and IFTTT. The next, at $500,000, will let the clock integrate with Holi's other sleep devices so you can use it as sleep tracker too. But sleep tracking isn't what Bonjour is primarily about; it's a personal assistant that, we hope, will be the first alarm clock we don't want to throw at a wall every morning.

"It's an alarm clock, it's not a rocket," says Gerard. "It will just change the way you wake up every day." If it does it well enough, that might be enough.

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