As anyone who’s fumbled with an idiotic touchscreen interface in a car will know, sometimes a good old button is the best way to get something done. Flic takes that thinking and applies it to, well, pretty much anything you want.
Flic is a small rubber button about the size of a quarter. Using an app, you can assign it to a number of functions, and, eventually, its inventors hope, link it to other apps and services. If you’ve got a smart home setup going, you can use it to dim the lights and launch Netflix with one touch. If you’re jogging at night, you can use it as a panic button, configuring it to send your location and a distress signal to a friend in the event of trouble. If you really like sending a friend the eggplant emoji, you can probably use Flic to do it without taking your phone out of your pocket.
Joacim Westlund, co-founder of the Swedish startup Shortcut Labs, came up with the idea while trying to kick his tobacco habit. He’d created an app to track his use of snus, a smokeless tobacco; it was a big green button to tap whenever he gave in. But the simplicity of the interface was marred by all the stuff required just to get to it—finding his phone, unlocking it, opening the app. “That’s when I thought about extracting that simple command out of the phone and into a physical button—the simplest user interface imaginable,” he says.
To start, Flic will be capable of a several simple triggers: controlling Hue and Lifx lightbulbs, playing music, snoozing alarms, sharing your location with friends. But the inventors are working with other apps and services to expand what the button can do. The idea is to expand it beyond being a convenient on/off button to enable it to trigger more specific actions. Instead of simply turning on Netflix, you could set it turn on Netflix and start playing the next episode of the show you’ve been watching. Shortcut Labs says it hopes to eventually link Flic to IFTTT to unlock even more complex functionality. To squeeze out a bit more utility, each button is designed to accept three actions—a press, a double press, and a long press—that you can map to different things. You can pre-order one on Indiegogo for $27.
It’s hard to identify the killer app for a simple, programmable button. I’m pretty sure it’s not one-touch pizza delivery, which is something Flic’s inventors are working with a few food vendors. (Come to think of it, one-touch Seamless ordering just may be ridiculous enough to catch on…) But think about your garage door opener. It’s also … one big button. And yet, imagine life without it. What a pain in the ass it would be if you had to open an app on your phone every time you were pulling into your driveway.
Surely, there are other places where single-serving interfaces could be handy, places where annoying workflows could be streamlined. But perhaps there are some counterintuitive use cases as well. When I’m writing, I occasionally use applications like SelfControl to eliminate access to time sucks like Twitter and Facebook—sites I find myself incapable of avoiding unless they’re restricted at a deep system level. It would be amazing to have a button next to my computer that would block these sites, shut off email and notifications, and deactivate the keyboard shortcuts I use to flit away from Text Edit whenever my thinking has momentarily stalled. It would be an off-switch for distractions. Not a killer app, but an app killer. Hot damn, now that’s a powerful button.