NOLA APPtitude: Building a better alarm clock
As a student at Newman School in New Orleans, and later at Yale University, Beau Babst was always ”the guy fixing things.”
“But I was definitely not the one coding in the middle of the night,” he says with a laugh.
So, starting a business dedicated to developing new smartphone apps was not part of his life plan. Except, of course, for the fact that he is from New Orleans, a place that nurtures people who think they can build a better mousetrap.
“The cultural makeup here is perfect for startups,” says Babst. “We’re weird. We’re always going to think of what’s cool. Here, artists will take whatever you give them and just do things with them. The whole identity of the city is perfect for entrepreneurship."
In Babst’s case, that involves building a better alarm clock. Uhp (pronounced “up”) is the first app launched by BeauxApps, a start-up devoted to making those omnipresent cell phones work harder for us. The name not only pays homage to its owner, but also incorporates the company’s idea of mixing creativity and technology.
Uhp uses a combination of the gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer contained in smartphones to create an alarm clock that tracks movement. Basically, you teach it to record your first morning activity – walking to the kitchen to turn on the coffeepot, walking to the bathroom to brush your teeth – and the alarm won’t turn off in the morning until you get out of bed and go there.
“The idea came out of trying to do more with that thing in your pocket,” Babst says. Most of us, he explains, use barely 10 percent of our cell phones’ capabilities. His apps will put the other 90 percent to creative use.
The seed for the Uhp concept was planted at Yale, with a student in one of Babst’s classes who was perennially late. “He had diabetes and blamed it on that. He just couldn’t get out of bed. And he had this giant Android phone. I thought, that phone has a lot of capability. I wonder if I could build an alarm clock that gets me somewhere?”
Babst, who admits he’s never fully awake until the coffee is on, worked on the idea, and has a number of early prototypes gathering dust under his bed to prove it. They were shelved while Babst graduated, returned to New Orleans with Teach for America, and then launched a start-up called Sensepack to track personal medical data.
Eventually, he wound up working at Oseberg, another start-up that works with oil and gas data analytics.
But the alarm clock idea remained a creative itch. So, when Babst started BeauxApps, he started tweaking it. The trick was to find a way to track movement; GPS is too imprecise, so Babst used things like the room’s magnetic readings and the body’s tilt and speed to pinpoint location more exactly. The phone uses these complicated functions to record a specific path.
“The first version was awful looking, with flashing red lights,” Babst says. “I called it the ‘Hit the Deck Alarm Clock’ because that’s what my dad always said when he got me up in the morning for high school.”
The name, like the look, proved unwieldy, and over time a sleek interface and streamlined approach yielded Uhp. The trim, contemporary design uses bold colors and geometric shapes in a digital clock face. The user tracks his morning routine, then sets the phone to respond by enabling that path.
“The next morning, when you get up and walk to that location, the alarm stops,” Babst explains. “You don’t have to retag the path unless you change your routine. And there’s social media accountability, too. If you sleep through the alarm or throw the phone across the room, it will post a notice on Facebook or tweet your mom, friends, boss, whomever.”
You can also program Uhp to allow you to sleep through a designated number of “snoozes.” It comes with 14 different ring tones and, unlike the iPhone alarm clock, allows you to download your favorite tunes for wakeup calls. The location function can be turned off for out-of-town travel.
Uhp was approved as an app by Apple only a week or so ago. Uhp Pro costs $1.99, and includes upgrades and updates. A free Uhp app is coming soon, as is an Android version.
The app business is a crowded but potentially lucrative one. Apple approves 1500 new apps a day, which get billions of hits. Babst sees Uhp’s target audience as college students, young professionals, and any others who tend to be chronic snoozers.
“But everyone sleeps,” he says with a shrug. “So …”
So far, Uhp is getting an encouraging number of downloads, including hundreds from across the country, several from Italy and three likes from Bolivia.
Babst isn’t saying what his next BeauxApp will be, only that he has “a couple of silly ideas and a couple of serious ones. It just depends on the traction.”
Whatever he builds, it will have a purpose.
“The range of this little device is wide,” he says of the smartphone. “Mine might not be a Candy Crush kind of business, but it is the kind of business that will be more useful.”
As his logo says: Apps for humans.
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]