Why you should care

Our smart-everything world is getting complicated. It’s time to dumb things down a little.

It’s pretty annoying to simply turn on the TV at some people’s houses these days: one remote each for the audio receiver, HDTV box and the TV. Or, if there’s a universal remote, good luck deciphering those 437 buttons. In our increasingly smart-this and smart-that world, with multiple apps and gadgets to control everything, it can make a person long for something simpler.

Like One. Big. Button. Bttn (“button”) is a new gadget that can be programmed to do a single task with a single action: the press of the button. Harri Rautio, CEO of the Finland-based company, says he and his team recognized there are “chaotic user interfaces all over the place” and came up with a simple solution. Think of bttn as a physical if-this-then-that device. You can program it to order food online or activate an automated fish feeder, Rautio says. Or let you know when the kiddos get home from school — the device can be programmed to trigger an SMS message that might say “I am home!” when it’s pressed.

A flashing green light at the top signals that the action was successfully triggered. A red light signals an error. Simple.

It’s nothing magical — just a little bit of programming that takes advantage of mobile data or Wi-Fi connectivity, powered by either four AA batteries or a USB cable. A flashing green light at the top signals that the action was successfully triggered. A red light signals an error. Simple. Bttn also works to program actions with messaging, social media and email. For bttn geeks, unique usages are shared on Twitter via #mybttn.

But for a device that can only be programmed to do a single task, $75 might seem a bit steep. Plus, you’d have to buy multiple bttns for various tasks around your home or office. The one-button interface is a “nice idea,” says user interface expert Jared M. Spool in a statement, but there are definitely some caveats with this simplicity: The device won’t show any indication of state (the lights are either on or off; you need to know what that means), and if you have 10 bttns around the house, how do you keep track of what each one does?

Still, it’s a start in the right direction. The idea of a simple user interface is becoming increasingly important. Gartner forecasts that this year, 4.9 billion “connected things” will be in use — by 2020, that number will be a whopping 25 billion. Who wants a future where controls in our homes look like the complicated cockpit of a Boeing 747? “As the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent,” Spool says, “designers will remove layers of complexity by creating abstraction layers that automate many of the processes.” Like how your car has a single abstraction called “starting.”

There can be a fine line between the oversimplified and the too complex, but the former keeps our minds from exploding. When in doubt, we might want to opt for dummy-proof.

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