Inspiration

Hands On: Tidbyt Simplifies Notifications

The origin of Tidbyt can be traced back to a litany of questions many of us ask ourselves each and every morning: What time is it? Do I need to wear a coat today? What time do I need to leave for work? Co-founders Rohan Singh and Mats Linander’s backgrounds in software and computer science made them ideally suited to address these questions from the perspective of technologists. Yet, both also identified with a growing number of everyday folks harboring the desire to reduce any reason to reach for their phone throughout the day. Thus, the pair set out to create a solution for users to glean the most basic of information without giving into that ever-present itch.

When we first learned about Tidbyt, we described it as the “antithesis of high resolution” display-based devices continually refining toward imperceptibly small pixels. Instead, Singh and Linander’s small desktop Internet-connected info display was conceived to filter relevant data customized to the user’s own interests, whether it be the weather, stocks, sports, and a myriad of other interests. These channels are displayed through the filter of a retro 64×32 pixel LED display to further visually slow down the flow of information otherwise hosed towards us throughout the day.

User's Tidbyt app collection screen with weather, air quality, sunrise/sunset, photo, and clock apps.

My app list is primarily composed of information I typically would reach to my phone for. Open to independent developers, Tidbyt’s app catalog is ever growing, and filled with a mixture of gimmicky and truly useful apps developed for the pixelated platform. \ Images: Gregory Han

I was recently given the opportunity to experience whether the Tidbyt delivered on its promises to allow users to “spend less time looking at our phones and more time doing what we care about.” For the last several weeks I’ve had the wood enclosed unit placed on a shelf just beside my desk at an easily glanceable distance. Loaded up with a short list of Tidbyt apps displaying weather, sunrise/sunset, local air quality, sports news, and my Spotify song playback, I set both my iPhone and Android devices at an arm’s length away to dedicate to a less tethered relationship with my preferred serving of info.

Tidbyt displayed on floating shelf with air quality of Los Angeles being displayed.

As wildfires have become increasingly a concern across the globe, being able to take a quick glance at the AQI proved to be one of the most useful bits of information I loaded onto the Tidbyt. \ Photo: Gregory Han

Tidbyt with photo of cat converted to its low resolution display.

The Tidbyt can be used to display photos uploaded from your phone, but the low resolution requires some distance and a close cropped image for optimal viewing. \ Photo: Gregory Han

Almost immediately I had to dim down the surprisingly bright screen to half its full luminescence, and preferred to keep Tidbyt set at a further distance than its originally planned proximity. While I thought it would be great to be kept abreast of NBA news, weather, and air quality viewable with just a turn of my head throughout the day, I found myself easily distracted by the carousel of apps switching from one to another (it was like working beside a miniature Las Vegas neon sign).

Tidbyt set on table next to Google Nest Mini.

Launched as a beta feature late last year, Google Home voice control fortifies Tidbyt’s goals of reducing our dependence upon our phones (if you’re already invested in compatible devices like the Google Nest Mini).

Tidbyt’s designers preemptively identified this natural progression between users, their device, and the information it is designed to display. To alleviate any distractions, Tidbyt can be customized to display certain apps only at specific times during the day. I choose to keep a singular static digital clock display that reminded me of the Timex clock I grew up with, complete with large amber or red LED numerals, with other app reports scheduled to appear only at the start and end of the work day.

Tidbyt set on table next to Google Nest Mini.

Now, this static display may seem to defeat the purpose of buying a multi-app device, but Tidbyt supports Google Home, meaning I can ask Tidbyt at any time to display the weather, check with local air quality, or see current NBA news by voice alone.

Tidbyt set in digital clock mode set on white wire bookself.

Positioned further away and customized to display the weather forecast, news, and air quality only at specific times of the day, the Tidbyt lives up to its goal of purposeful information without the tempting distractions of our phones. \ Photo: Gregory Han

Any additional display introduced into our lives, even one as cute and engineered as the Tidbyt, can easily become an additional distraction. Novelty’s fun factor is fleeting, and it quickly disintegrates into annoyance when you’ve got work to do. To credit Tidbyt’s creators, they seem to recognize the information we need throughout the day ebbs and flows, and have integrated a level of control across its display to literally and figuratively dim down our relationship with notifications. In doing so, I found a perfectly low resolution, hi-tech clock just smart enough and also fun to earn itself a place on my shelf.

The Tidbyt is available in Beech or Walnut for $199 at tidbyt.com.

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Gregory Han is the Managing Editor of Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at gregoryhan.com.

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