• 01.02.13

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.]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.