I think we can all generally agree push notifications are a design kludge–and an ugly one at at that. They come in a relentless stream of angrily buzzing digital distractions, insisting upon our attention no matter what we’re doing, or how important they are. And it’s depressing that while context is the new watchword in mobile UI design, companies like Google and Apple still haven’t fully applied that to their push notification systems.
It makes perfect sense that you might want to set contextual rules for how you get contacted on your phone: no calls when you’re in the bathroom, or a daily run-down of your calendar when you sit down in front of your desk in the morning. But your smartphone doesn’t really have the hardware to determine where you are with that sort of accuracy. GPS just doesn’t have the granularity to determine whether or not you’re in your bedroom or your home office, which is why companies like Apple use supplementary hardware called iBeacons to provide customers contextual information throughout their stores. Google has a similar project, called Nearby, that pings users in public places like museums and stores.
Dot is a set of beacon-like devices for your home and other personal spaces that allow you to contextualize your push notifications. A Dot is essentially a Bluetooth beacon that you stick on any surface. As your smartphone gets closer, it can detect the exact distance based upon signal strength, and send a push notification when you get within a certain distance. What’s cool about Dot is that you can program that notification to contain anything, through an app inspired by popular internet recipe-making platform IFTTT (an acronym for “If This, Then That”). A Dot can just as easily be programmed to remind your roommate to take out the trash as it can turn on the smart lights to your bedroom when you walk in the room.
Outside of contextual notifications, and the ability to open apps and control objects in your smart home based on proximity, each Dot also comes with an embedded color-changing LED, which can provide useful information. For instance, if you live with a roommate who’s always hiding in his room, a Dot on the jamb of his door could tell you when he’s home or not. A blinking Dot when you arrive home could tell you if you have any messages; one at your work desk could tell you you have some emails from your boss. Another example cited by the creators: a Dot in your car could automatically open Waze or Google Maps to route you on the fastest way to work.
Now available for preorder on Kickstarter, an individual Dot is quite reasonably priced at around $20 each, and you get a discount when you order three or more. If push notifications are driving you insane, this seems like a cheap way to give them genuine smarts. It’s an interesting product, if only because it’s the first time we’ve really seen how contextual notifications can be useful to consumers–not retail stores trying to sell us stuff.