In the future, technological convergence will reduce our buying options to a few supermodel gadgets capable of doing just about everything we could possibly require of them.

Massive LCD screens embedded in our walls, for instance, will allow us to view digital broadcasts, home movies, digital snaps, and the day's newspapers, and let us organise our bank finance and order takeaways and shopping by proxy.

Microwave cookers will provide access to the Internet, and Walkmans will no longer require CDs, Mini-discs or tapes - the music will simply be embedded inside them in a superchip.

We are not talking decades here. In a couple of years these machines will be commonplace: the start of the next century is going to see a lot of old technology being sold off at car boot sales. This is fine, if you are a smug Intel processor waiting to be shoe-horned into a state of the art black box, but pretty depressing if you are only a humble alarm clock.

Nowadays of course, everything comes with a clock and you can programme your watch, your pager, your electronic organiser, your mobile phone and even your PC to wake you up if you really want, although I imagine few bother to utilise the function (the problem with convergence, of course, is that you can't see the function you really want, for the mass of other options available, most of which are only marginally useful).

So what future is there for something that used to feel pretty smug about being able to beep once every 24 hours, or wake you up with the dulcet tones of Zoe Ball if you were really unlucky? It wasn't too long ago that the chunky radio alarm clock (with requisite snooze button) seemed pretty smart.

Having been dispatched to college at the age of 18, with an intricate Swiss wind-up that ticked so loudly it had to be kept wrapped up in jumpers in the bottom drawer before emitting a noise louder than a car alarm at 7:30am, I dimly recall wanting one myself. Now, though, they look anachronistic as they gather dust on the shelves of electrical shops across the land, like prehistoric animals awaiting for their lineage's inevitable conclusion. Even their attempts to evolve look laughably futile.

Although you can see the merit in Oregon Scientific's Alarm Clock (pounds 39.99), which automatically adjusts its time across European time zones thanks to a radio-controlled time signal in the ether, the company's more elaborate big brother, the Electronic Barometer (pounds 99.99 for the six-function model), would perplex even Darwin. The seven-inch tall charcoal sentinel tells you how high your central heating is, how humid the air is, and predicts the weather, without you having to open the curtains.

Zeon Tech has designed a couple of equally absurd products. The Zeon Tech World Time Desk Clock (pounds 29.99) provides, among other features, details of maximum and minimum temperatures and rainfall for 24 major cities across the globe (just the thing you're likely to consult when contemplating which Factor suntan to buy for your package holiday in Ibiza). And its Dream Traveller (pounds 19.99) not only allows you to wake up to the synthetic sounds of the dawn chorus, it provides the sound of exotic streams, ocean surf and seagull cries to soothe you into your slumber.

Admittedly, the company also does a nifty gadget that allows you to record messages without having to get out of bed: brilliant if you dream up a cure for cancer in the middle of the night, and also pretty good for leaving messages to your loved ones, which can be programmed to wake them up in the morning (our recommendation: "But darling, it's your turn to get up and make the coffee"). The only problem is that it looks like the kind of machine traffic wardens carry around with which to dispense digital parking tickets.

When it comes down to it, the one major consideration with alarm clocks is whether or not you want them to be portable. If you want something simple, Braun's range comprises durable classics with real hands (from pounds 14.75 for a basic model, to pounds 23.75 for a voice control, and pounds 24.75 for reflex control), although every time I grope for mine and knock it on the floor, the battery holder has the immensely irritating habit of popping out.

For travellers who want to show off, Sony's ICF-CD1000 (pounds 149) will do the job. The size of a paperback and wishing it was a laptop, this neat little battery-powered package comprises a CD player, a FM/MW radio with five preset stations, and enough Mega Bass to wake up the neighbours in the adjoining bedroom. If you want something similarly priced for the home, then don't buy Sony's ICF-CD820 clock radio/CD player. The colour is a hideous, plasticky, dull silver, and it bears too close a resemblance to those ungainly old-fashioned clock radios, soon to hit the technological scrapheap.

If you really want to wake up in style, avoid the clock section of the electronic store altogether and head over to the mini- systems, the majority of which now encompass timer functions to turn on tapes, CDs or the radio at your behest.

As far as mid-range systems go, your best buy is Denon's DM-7 Super Micro Separates System (pounds 580), a 30 watt system with a three-disc CD changer, cassette player, and receiver with 40-station AM/FM preset (a Mini-disc unit is an optional extra). A remote control means that you don't even have to keep the console on your bedside table where things inevitably get tea spilled over them or are dragged onto the floor during dreams about taking on Mike Tyson, although the separates have a nice solid feel about them. The major aesthetic criticism is the tasteless milk chocolate veneer of the speakers.

If money is no object, then nothing competes with Bang & Olufsen's BeoSound 9000 (pounds 2,500), a slim, sleek sentinel with preset FM and AM radio, plus six CD stations neatly lined up next to one another, allowing you not just to wake up to the sound of a CD but a whole programmed sequence of them. The unit can be wall-mounted, horizontally or vertically, or mounted on an optional stand or bracket, and operated either manually or by remote control (pounds 150). Don't be persuaded to go for the top of the range BeoLab Penta 3 speakers (pounds 2,650/pair), though. They are just too cumbersome for the bedroom. The perfect speakers for nightime seduction and bad hair dawns are the slimline, tapered 8000s (pounds 2,100 a pair).

Yes, staying in bed has never been easier, especially if you've got a secondhand Teasmade under your bed. Now if only there were some way of getting the croissants (which, of course you programmed the cooker last night to bake this morning) from the kitchen without getting out from under the duvet.

Novelty Alarm


n Homer Simpson: the 22cm tall, donut-gazing Simpson says five classic phrases. Available from Express Gifts/Index/Debenhams. Price: around pounds 25.

n Mr Golf. He swings his club, he shouts, and he costs $84.50 (pounds 50, plus p&p) from

n Rude Awakening: "I said drag your ass out of bed now." Be brought to your senses by verbal abuse. It costs just $19.99 (pounds 12 plus p&p) from http:// www.rudeawakening.


n The drum-kit alarm clock: crash and roll for the Keith Moon fan in your life. For prices, call 001 847 735 9130.

Tv in Bed

TVS WITH remote controls are ubiquitous, and most of them allow you to programme them. Bang & Olufsen's revolving 32-inch widescreen BeoVision Avant (pounds 4,950), can be programmed to kick-start your day with a video or TV channel.

Now you can wake up to Apocalypse Now, or be roused for a big breakfast by Denise Van Outen.

Or, if you're really perverse, Richard and Judy.



DON'T WASTE pounds 1.80 getting the operator to wake you - programme your own reminder call for 20p with a touch-tone phone:

1. Dial *55*, followed by the time you want to be woken up in 24-hour clock speak (ie quarter past ten is 1015), proceeded by #.

2. To cancel the call dial #55#.

3. To check the call dial *#55#.