Rise, created by Inchauste and his pal Kellen Styler, is a minimalist alarm-clock app with a simple gestural UI.

Swiping a thumb up and down on the screen scrubs the "clock" backwards and forwards in 15-minute increments so you can set your alarm.

Rise doesn’t have "buttons"--all you see is the relevant information, surrounded by soothing gradient hues.

Rise doesn’t have "buttons"--all you see is the relevant information, surrounded by soothing gradient hues.

Rise doesn’t have "buttons"--all you see is the relevant information, surrounded by soothing gradient hues.

Rise doesn’t have "buttons"--all you see is the relevant information, surrounded by soothing gradient hues.

Rise doesn’t have "buttons"--all you see is the relevant information, surrounded by soothing gradient hues.

Rise doesn’t have "buttons"--all you see is the relevant information, surrounded by soothing gradient hues.

Co.Design

Rise, An Alarm Clock App With A Slick Gestural UI

Gestural interfaces are hot, but they’re still difficult to get right. Rise actually pulls it off.

Designer, UX consultant, and blogger Francisco Inchauste had some interesting thoughts about gestural interfaces that we shared when Clear, the innovative gestural to-do app, launched earlier this year. Little did we know that Inchauste and his pals Kellen Styler and Peiter Buick were already developing a simplified, gestural utility app of their own. It’s a minimalist alarm clock called Rise, and it’s a beaut:

The first thing Rise reminded me of was Solar, another single-use utility app that combines chromeless, gestural interface design with gorgeous full-screen color washes. "The content is the interface" is becoming a new mantra of mobile app design, and like Solar, Rise doesn’t have "buttons"—all you see is the relevant information, surrounded by soothing gradient hues. (There is a gear-shaped icon near the bottom of Rise’s main screen that looks like a button, but if you press it, the screen "hops" upward a little bit to remind you to invoke the proper gestural command instead.)

Rise’s gestures are among the most ergonomically intuitive I’ve seen yet in this kind of app. Swiping a thumb up and down on the screen scrubs the "clock" backwards and forwards in 15-minute increments so you can set your alarm. (The hovering clock readout even sweeps to the opposite side of the screen that your thumb is on, so as not to be obscured during the gesture—a truly humane touch for left-handed users like myself.) Once you’ve set the time you want, a simple leftward or rightward swipe activates it.

Most gestural UIs still feel like little puzzles to solve instead of an easier way of interacting with apps, and Rise’s "gestural redundancy" makes its interface feel immensely more user-friendly. (That’s pretty key for an app you’ll be pawing at in an irritated pre-coffee haze when you wake up in the morning.) Also, the gesture itself is just super-easy to invoke, ergonomically speaking. Start, another gestural alarm clock app, forces you to move dials in a circular motion onscreen—which looks cool, but it’s quite an awkward gesture in practice. Inchauste believes that gestural UIs can and do have "affordances" just like standard buttons and toggles—but only if the UI designer makes those gestures very simple and easy to discover. Rise’s thoughtful interface design shows that Inchauste is walking the walk as well as talking it.

Ironically, though, Rise didn’t start out as a gestural app at all. "In the first iterations, we found that we were overcompensating and splitting up the controls in order to make it 'really simple,'" Inchauste tells Co.Design. "The AM/PM, the hour, the minutes, repeat, were all there so you could just tap one [at a time], or drag another to change it. However, it was like making an interface that acts like a wizard walkthrough; it only works well the first time you use it; after that, it gets annoying."

"As we began to iterate, we discovered that maybe the user doesn’t have to make all those decisions separately," Inchauste continues. "Maybe they can do a few gestures to manipulate those elements in an intuitive way. So using gestures became a way to continue on the road of reduction."

But just because "the content is the interface" doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ideal for the user—yet. "The thing you don’t always realize with gestures is that by removing the interface artifacts that you are used to seeing, it makes the app seem less feature rich or capable," Inchauste cautions. "Gestures hide all this so well, it’s something many will need to get used to when comparing future products and their features." Maybe it’s the fact that Inchauste isn’t completely head-over-heels in love with "innovative" gestural UIs yet that makes Rise’s restrained, redundant interface feel so . . . well, safe. We’re all still getting used to this new way of interacting with our apps, and Rise shows that a bit of thoughtful hand-holding still goes a long way.

[Rise is available for $1.99.]

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10 Comments

  • monirom

    There seems to be a rush as of late to rethink the most simplistic yet useful of apps; note taking, to do lists, weather, and alarm clocks. The thing is -- what happens when everyone starts using gesture controls? Will your app be made irrelevant or become another app in the iTunes Store with a pretty UI - more accessory than tool.

    Lately I've been using an app that solves the biggest problem with alarm clocks - we sleep through them. It's called Wake and Shake and it uses similar gestural controls present in Rise.

    The differentiator is that Wake and Shake requires extensive (though adjustable) and VIGOROUS shaking of your phone before it turns off, you can't override it by quitting the app or turning down the volume. By the end of this physical activity, you're wide awake - though not always happy - but you won't miss your plane or that important meeting either. (Though Wake and Shake suffers from the same limitations as Rise - it must be running in the foreground when you fall asleep for it to work.)

    I think apps that solve a problem versus those that are redesigned to forward a new form of interaction through UI will always have more use long term. Just my 2 cents.

  • Stephane Boisvert

    I'm a sucker for simplistic interfaces. This is definitely an interesting take on the old classic alarm clock. If only it was available on what 70% of the planet uses as a smartphone OS, instead of catering only to the 20%. *hint

    That said, gesturals are not innovative, Android and BlackBerry's Playbook have had it for a couple of years now.

  • Netcelerate

    this is a very nice app. I just got it and am looking forward to how it works. very nicely laid out.

  • xlbrooklyn

    The interface is beautiful and certainly bends more toward intuition than do most apps.  I want to point out, though, that this app (and others following in the gestural vein) need to have some under-the-hood programming in place for users whose fine motor control is poor.  My mother, for instance, has an inherited, progressive form of mild palsy called essential tremor.  It is getting worse as she gets older and her fine motor control is deteriorating.  In a world that is more and more about getting the gesture (combined with number of fingers) just right, she gets more and more frustrated with all things touch-based.  I am looking particularly at the part of Rise where one slides up and down the screen to pick the alarm time then slides over to the right (toward the center) to set it.  For a user who trembles, this is an enormously difficult series of movements to get right.

  • peiter buick

    Peiter with the Simple Bots team here. Thanks for all the feedback, we’re listening and have released an update with the following features:

    Additions:
    - Dragging down from the top now looks for notification center interactions- Lock screen support- Lock screen and foreground sounds while "Do Not Disturb" and the silent - switch is set- Lock screen and forground sounds while "Do Not Disturb" is set- Vibrate only and iTunes song alarms- Progressive alarms- Snooze from the lock screen with a shake ( iPhone only )- URL Schemes for apps like Launch Cubby (risealarmclock, risebysimplebots)

    Bug Fixes:
    - Better 24 hour and global region support- Better time pan performance and movement- Better long snooze time handling - Better alarm volume support- UI and interaction updates

    Download the update and let us know what you think. Peiter Buick  - @pbuickFrancisco Inchauste  - @getfinchKellen Styler  - @d3signerd:twitter 

  • TeslasLovePigeon

    Interesting. Companies charging $2 for something your phone already. The future looks 'bright' if you're a UXD. Wacca-wacca! 

  • theolmstead

    This app really is beautiful and extremely well designed. Only problem is the apps inability to tap into iOS's Apple-only alarm API's. That means you either need to leave the app open all night to get an alarm. The workaround that Rise employs is to send a bunch of push notifications to you at alarm time instead up (which really isn't very effective, especially if you use DND at night or have your phone on silent). This isn't Rise's problem- they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with.

    Apple alone has the ability to play an actual alarm sound when the app isn't running. Apple alone has the ability to play an alarm when the phone is in DND mode or is set to Silent.

    Its sad that apps like this are hamstrung by limitations like this that they have no control over. It would be really nice if Apple began to grant 'provisional' approval access to apps to higher-level functions (like alarm) that traditionally only their apps have been able to access. Even if it took an app longer to receive approval, the provisional access would be worth it to many developers.

  • Garyr

    I have the issue with no alarm when my iPhone is set to silent. Also, how does one set an alarm for PM? Perhaps that is why the app is called 'Rise', it is only for getting up in the morning.

  • Marcus Agunloye

    This looks very interesting (I don't have an iOS device so I can't have a play around with it), but I do wonder if gestures are really the best idea for a function like this. Currently I have an android phone, and one of the biggest recent changes I've noticed recently is the new clock app, which allows the alarm time to be set with button presses like a calculator and has specific buttons for :00 and :30. For me this feels much quicker than anything I've used before, theres no fussing around with a dial, just three taps on a screen and then the alarm is set, which is exactly what I want when setting an alarm. I guess it would be interesting to know the users thought process when going through an action like this - if they're likely to already know exactly what they want and jump straight in, or if they're more likely to tweak it and move back and forward between times before making a decision.