A stranger in my bed: Testing the Wakie app

Crave's Michael Franco spends a week getting woken up by people from all over the world, and the results are eye-opening.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
4 min read

I am fast asleep. A steady pulse draws me out of a deep dream and I fumble for the phone on my nightstand. Is it my mom in New York? My nephew in Hawaii?

Nope, it's a woman I've never met before in England telling me it's time to wake up.

This is day two of my experiment using an app called Wakie. Wakie, released earlier this month and billed as a "social alarm clock," is available for free for both Android and Windows Phone.

Wakie bills itself as a "social alarm clock." Wakie

The app is simple. After installing it on your smartphone, you're asked to enter your phone number so an automated service can call you back to verify that it's a valid number. After that you enter your age and gender and you're good to go. You set an alarm for the morning, and at the designated time, a real live person who has signed up to be a waker gives you a call.

Before I go further, let's get something straight. I'm not a morning person. And I don't like talking in the early hours of the day. To anyone. So when my editor asked me to test out this app, I had more than a little apprehension. But you know, journalism.

A big chunk of my nervousness fell away on the first morning I used the app. An enthusiastic and thickly accented voice on the other end of the line at 7:30 a.m. said, "Hey there! I am calling from Spain! It's time to wake up man!"

Falling immediately into my "I can't speak before noon" mode, I thanked the guy and told him to have a nice day. He quickly said, "No, no, wait a minute. Where are you right now? I am calling from Spain!" I told him that I was based in the US, in North Carolina, and that seemed to please him. "Have a good day and now... get to work!" he said. I thanked him and we were disconnected.

Calls on Wakie only last one minute, so things never get too awkward and there aren't too many opportunities for long pauses, a fact I found very comforting. I have to admit that after that quick chat with my happy friend in Spain, I was more awake than I ever was after just slapping the alarm off on my clock or swiping my phone.

On the second morning, I got a much less enthusiastic -- but completely pleasant -- call from the woman in Sheffield, England. "This is your wake-up call," she said in a British accent. She asked where I was, I asked where she was and we were done. We didn't even make it to the one-minute mark. Part of me was relieved about that, but I have to say, part of me kind of wanted the conversation to go a bit longer. What was happening to me?

The next day my call came from two people -- a guy from Iowa who had his mom on the other line because he wanted to show her how the app worked. "Are you up?" he asked. "No? Then get up, do some calisthenics and throw on some clothes. Get your day started man!"

On day four, I was woken by a Russian robot. That's what happens when you set a back-up alarm and the app can't find a live person to wake you up. You get a pre-recorded message that does the job. But then -- surprise! I got a live person calling me just a few minutes later. It was a guy from Russia, with the appropriate atmospheric accent. I asked him the time where he was located and he said, "It's cold and dark here and evening is just approaching." Classic.

On the final morning of my Wakie experiment, the app didn't work at all. No call from a mysterious European stranger. No robot. Nothing.

Your user profile page keeps tracks of the number of times you've woken and been woken by Wakie users. Wakie

Which brings up one of the more annoying components of the app. It doesn't work like, um, clockwork. On several of the mornings, I would answer my "Wakie" and hear nothing, then I'd get beeped with a call on the other line. It was Wakie again. Sometimes I had to monkey-bar my way through three calls like that before I got to my live person. Annoying, yes, but it definitely helped the wake-up process.

There were issues when I tried to become a waker as well -- something app users do out of the goodness of their hearts, as there's no compensation for waking others up.

On several mornings I'd request the chance to wake someone up, get the alert and push the phone button to call them. The call failed every single time I tried except on the last day, when I got through to someone in the US.

He sounded like he had been woken from sleep he'd been denied for weeks. His voice was garbled and he barely was able to grunt out a "yes" when I asked if we was awake. I asked where he was from and the line remained silent. I followed up with a "hello" and he indicated he was still there. "Are you awake?" I asked. "Yes sir," he said tersely. "Where are you located?" I asked. Silence. And then the call ended.

Sheesh, what a grouch. He should learn to talk more in the morning.

I don't plan on using Wakie every morning to get me up. I've never really been comfortable striking up conversations with strangers. Also, it's proven to be too unreliable for important wake-ups, so if I do use it, I'll be sure to set my phone's alarm as a backup.

But on those nights when I get in a little too late and know that getting up the next day is going to be extra painful, I think I'll set myself a Wakie alarm. To my surprise, talking to someone first thing in the morning can be a pretty energizing way to start the day.