No good "smart" buttons, so I built my own. Anyone want to try it?

I’m really frustrated with the lack of generic, inexpensive, “smart” buttons that can be used for personal data tracking. I want a solution for me and the people who use my website to track personal events but I keep coming up disappointed.

  • flic is expensive (though their new offering looks to do more and cost less)
  • Amazon Dash Buttons are discontinued and even then need to be “hacked” to achieve other use cases.
  • Xiaomi buttons require their gateway
  • Philips Hue Buttons same thing - need to buy their gateway
  • bttn - only B2B sales at the moment and I think they require an ongoing subscription
  • etc

Heck, I ordered a sample eGet button from Alibaba but the app was buggy and it never was able to connect to my wifi network.

I even connected with a fellow QS’r here who was selling software but it didn’t pan out.

I want to put sets of buttons in specific places to make it easy to track things as I’m doing them. Buttons by the stove to track meal prep time, coffee, morning mood, etc. Buttons by the fish tank to track how diligent I am with feeding and maintenance. Buttons in the bathroom to track personal care stuff. Stuff like that.

I got so frustrated that I decided to build my own “virtual buttons” that run on old phones I have laying around the house.

(old iPhone6 taped to the bathroom mirror)

(old iPhone5 taped to the fish tank. I am horrible at doing water changes!)

My thinking is that lots of people have old phones/tablets that could be put to similar uses to track personal events for Nof1 experiments.

But I’m also thinking there’s got to be other similar (better) solutions out there.

If anyone has recommendations or comments, I’d love to learn more.

If you know of anyone who would like to try out my alternative solution, ping me for help setting it up or check out this forum post for basic instructions.

All feedback is appreciated. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

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You could try your local makerspace. A cheap processor board with wifi plus panel of buttons should be about 30$. I know everything but the server should be easy enough to do in 3 hours for the prototype. There are probably completed prototypes on You can buy smart phones for 40$. I have no idea what kind of server you would want in any of these cases.

Thanks very much rain8dome9 - I went the maker-route in the past… a friend of mine and I actually built a fairly wide variety of smart sensors a few years back but we couldn’t scale it to an inexpensive and repeatable project. And most people aren’t interested in or don’t have the skills to do their own fabrications.

Here’s a photo of some of the old diy hardware that we built back in the day…

motion sensor in the top right, the base station far right, two light/temp/humidity sensors, two single button wireless buttons with red and green leds for basic 2-way communication, two double button units, etc.

I think you’re right though, in that a makerspace would be a good source of alternate ideas. Sadly, the closest makerspace is a 90 minute drive from my small town.

All those factors led me down the road to create the digital smart buttons. As you point out, smart phones (and tablets) are cheap. And many people have extra older ones laying around.

The more research I do and the more I experiment, the more I’m convinced that digital smart buttons/ IoT buttons are the most cost-effective and easily scalable way to go. But I’m worried I’m uninformed about alternate solutions or hat maybe while my family and I find the digital buttons useful, it isn’t a solution many other people would want.

I definitely know the DIY makerspace board hardware has gotten much smaller than your picture. 20$ for temperature, humidity, pressure, and VOC, size of a quarter;

For awhile I was using the Misfit Flash as a “smart” button. You could connect it to IFTTT, and I had it log presses to a Google Spreadsheets. It wasn’t perfect, but not bad. The main issue was that if it failed, there was no way for it to let me know. I couldn’t tell when presses were being missed (but knew that they were).

You may be interested in the 1-button tracker project that QS Labs is collaborating on (I can’t link to it directly but it’s the first tile). It’s still in development. It doesn’t upload that data to a server. But it writes it to a csv file that can be read when connected by usb. Would something like that work for your situations?

The 1-button tracker project looks really interesting. But I’m searching for a solution that can scale to a lot of Nof1’rs quickly at a low cost and I don’t think that project is at that stage.

Here’s a 4 minute video of me creating a digital panel of buttons to measure how happy I am at any given time, and then exporting the data to csv.

To replicate that with the 1-button tracker, I think I’d need 5 of the physical buttons and I’d need to carry them around with me as I go through my day? Then I’d have to stitch the data sets together.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the 1-button tracker has a lot of potential (I wish I could build it!) but the more my family and I use the digital Event Panels that we create to log our daily events, the more I’m inclined to believe that a digital connected solution has more merits than a physical device that logs data locally.

I’m still surprised there isn’t already a solution that combines the best of both worlds.

The search continues…

Yeah, the 1-button tracker doesn’t scale well if you want to record multiple types of observations. Part of its design is longevity by not being dependent on app that needs to be continually updated with new OS’s. And if app development stops, then it’s a useless device. Though, of course, there are other ways to connect a device to a data store without going through an app.

For tracking multiple things like you are doing, I’ve found Tally to be useful, especially since I can access it as a complication on my apple watch. There’s enough of a delay in opening that app that it makes me still want a physical button for some uses. But it’s still pretty good. My watch is series 1, so it is probably much better on newer versions.

In terms of connectivity, Tally has decent options for getting your data out, with backup to icloud or dropbox. You can also manually export a csv.

Wow Steven, thanks for mentioning Tally, I hadn’t heard of it. I’m primarily an Android user and I think it’s only available for iOS but I dug out an old iPhone6 and downloaded it. Very impressive. Definitely the closest thing to what I’ve built but it has a much nicer user interface (sadly, I’m not good at design).

There are a lot of “counting” apps with “Tally” in their name but I’m certain you’re referring to “Tally: The Anything Tracker” (here’s a link for anyone interested in it - - I can’t seem to link to the Apple App Store link??)

I can’t export data without buying the premium version and there are a bunch of other limitations with the free version but at $7 for the upgrade that seems fair. Do you happen to know if the exported data has time stamps or just the date?

In case Jonas’ ink changes he is talking about the “totti labs one button tracker”.

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Ah. I assumed you use iOS because of the iPhones in the picture. Sorry about the link. It opened a browser page on my computer. The one you linked to is the correct version.

I forgot that I upgraded mine. Though, I believe it only cost $5 for me.

I just did an export and you get two CSV’s. One shows individual observations with time stamps. The other csv shows how many times each box was tapped by day.