While sitting in front of my computer at 9:00 PM in my completely silent office, I was scared half out of my wits by my Sidekick’s email alert. It’s even worse when I have it sitting out and it not only chimes, but also vibrates against my desktop like some old door buzzer. Of course there are other times — in loud, crowded restaurants, or outside among the din of the city — when I can’t hear my phone ring at all, and since I keep it in a dorky leather holster attached to my belt instead of in my pocket (who wants to risk cancer down there?), I often can’t feel it vibrate, either.
So I started wondering why mobile phone ringers aren’t smarter. Just like my PowerBook will dim my screen based on a sampling of ambient light, why can’t a phone sample ambient noise in order to decide how it should alert you? If you’re sitting in your office and it’s dead quite, a soft, pleasant chime should do the trick, but if you’re having a drink in a loud bar or walking down a busy street, it should blare and vibrate.
I know some phones have the ability to gradually increase the volume of the ringer the longer a call goes unanswered which is a nice low-tech solution, however I’ve found that if you’re in a noisy environment, by the time you realize your phone is ringing, you’re not likely to be able to recover it from wherever you have it stashed before the caller is forward to voicemail (and you already know how I feel about voicemail).
Another low-tech solution I’ve noticed is keeping your phone out in front of you on the bar. Of course, problems with that approach include: spilling beer on it, other people spilling beer on it, and getting drunk and leaving it behind. Besides, why throw a low-tech solution at a problem when it’s so much fun to over-engineer one.