I have been Chumby-tised, Resistance is Futile

The Chumby by Chumby Industries is a very innovative little product that is to me a great response by some thinking people on the culture that the Web 2.0 communities are creating.

A while back I wrote about the Chumby as well as talked about why such products might be the next big thing for the Web 2.0. Now I like to give you, dear reader a little treat, I have mange to get an Alpha sample right into my grubby mitts! On a whim I signed up for their closed Alpha product testing group as an Industrial Designer, and after a few emails back and forth, I got selected and inducted into the program! I was surprised as I thought they were looking for hardware and software people that could hacked their open sourced product (hardware and software) to morph it into something different. I guess where I can help contribute is in the product delivery, housing design as well as the usage experience.
So what is a Chumby? Well directly from the site its a clock-radio with a lot more going for it.

Introducing the chumby, a compact device that can act like a clock radio, but is way more flexible and fun. It uses the wireless internet connection you already have to fetch cool stuff from the web: music, the latest news, box scores, animations, celebrity gossip…whatever you choose. And a chumby can exchange photos and messages with your friends. Since it’s always on, you’ll never miss anything.

That’s right it has the ability to pull anything from the internet. Think of it as a news reader, an always accurate clock, a photo frame, and a MySpace viewer. It does not necessary work as a means for you to partake in Web 2.0 communities, but what it essentially does is it allows you to keep track of them. Ok like all “nerds” the unboxing and setting up “ceremony” is this post’s highlight. Not enough companies explore this part of the product experience, and the Chumby does deliver even though it’s only an Alpha prototype. Here we go!
Ooh a nice little recyclable brown box, with some cool branding going on. (Feeling good.)

Ah such a nice touch, the CEO sends me a message of well wishes. (Feeling better.)

Out of the box, the unit and a power source and I ask myself is that it? Hmm clever people at the helm so I trust them.

Front and side view, hmm its a bean bag! (Cool!)

Back view, little raw, but expected. Lots better than some of the prototypes I’ve played with in my day.

Yep its a bean bag material inside.

I “deflower” my Chumby…(excitement)

Plug it in…(even more excitement)

I turn it on and am greeted with a blank screen, and suddenly a cool start up sequence.

Wait a minute, touch here? Its a TOUCHSCEEN and I go through the set up sequence (Very Cool.)

I almost fall off my chair, a WIRELESS connection, just what is in this bean bag! (Amazed) All entered with finger sized buttons that reflect a nice interface design.

Connected and up and running. I get the time right a way.

Now I’m stuck, as it did not come with any instructions. However after popping back to the Chumby website, I realized I needed to sign up and “link” the product up with their server. Once I did that, I had to control myself to prevent putting everything but the kitchen sink into my Chumby’s wireless feed. My Chumby, which I called Fred, in his new home, next to my kitchen sink.

Fantastic, set-up took me all in about 15 minutes. Selecting what to put in was the difficult part. I finally decided to put in Google News, Digg and a few different clock designs. However as the label says its still a prototype and there are a few bugs in the system. So in a bid to strike while the iron is still hot, here are a few of my suggestions on how I think this product can be improved at this stage.
What I like to see:
1) User programmable RSS feeds. This is my no.1 request for the next software update to have. I kind of like what they currently have that I can install, but having to sign up with specific partners or have special installations is a little annoying.
2) Speed control of the changing periods between the different widgets. Widgets are the heart of the Chumby’s software, installing these widgets gives the product its functionality. However it rotates thru the different widgets at a fixed speed. I would like a little more control, to for example keep my News widget a little longer on screen, and perhaps shorten the display of other widgets.
3) A “see more” button to view more of a displayed a news article. The RSS feeds tend to just show a brief summary. Sometimes a little too brief. I would like an option to expand a certain story or feed and view more of it if possible.
4) More international content, like international weather, international stock quotes. Currently it’s just too US centric.
5) An indicator that tells you of new content avaliable. I think this could get annoying if not designed correctly, but it would be nice if a beeping noise or a flashing light could be used to inform us that there is fresh content in a feed or widget.
6) Easier Wi-Fi setup. I’m not sure why in most Wi-Fi setup procedures; it requires you to enter the converted Hex digits instead of your ASCII (text) password you used to set it up. Life would be so much easier if you could. Most people can read English, so I think getting them to read code is a lot harder. Perhaps the Chumby can be different in this way, a product that is for the lay person on the street. Explains the bean bag housing eh?
All in all, it’s a great little product and I would buy the final version when it comes out. However this bean bag body does not really appeal to me, so when I have the time, I’ll rip it apart and see what I can do with it. But that my friends is another blog post, so do stay tuned!

  • Duane Maxwell

    March 12, 2007 at 3:49 am Reply

    Thanks for your comments regarding the chumby. Let me try to address some of theese issues:
    1) Perhaps someone will put together such a widget – it wouldn’t be too hard. So far, we’ve built specialized widgets in order to have the appearance of the widget match the content.
    2) You’ll be able to control the duration of individual widgets in a future version of the website – the chumby itself knows how to do it, but the functionality has not yet been exposed to the user. It’s high on our list.
    3) “See more” would generally require a full embedded web browser – unfortunately, the chumby does not have one. Most of the “lightweight” browsers we’ve tried on the chumby don’t work very well – they use too much memory, are too slow, and don’t present the pages very well. Many sites noawaday require plugins which don’t exist for our platform.
    4) We’ve had difficulty finding reliable, free data feeds for international stock and weather content. For instance, our current US weather feed comes from NOAA. If you have some pointers to where we can get such content, please let us know and we’ll build the widgets.
    5) I’ll submit a feature request.
    6) I think we’ve done the best we can with an (unfortunately) very complicated process. The reason we don’t support “text” WEP passwords is that there isn’t any standard for mapping text to hexadecimal – each wifi vendor uses their own mapping and some of the mappings are “secret”, so even if we wanted to implement them, we couldn’t. If we somehow could support the half-dozen-or-so methods, we’d probably then have to ask the user what brand and model of access point they’re using, which seems like it might be wishful thinking.
    With WPA, there *is* a standard mapping, and we do offer the ability to enter text passwords.

  • Design Translator

    March 12, 2007 at 6:12 am Reply

    Hi Duane,
    Thanks for the feedback and additional information, its good to know where we are at and where we plan to go!
    Take care and please keep in touch.

  • Marc

    March 28, 2007 at 5:48 pm Reply

    Hi DT
    Your writing is really thought-provoking… I’ve had a great time poking around your site today!
    My jealousy has forced me to comment on this post now that I’ve wiped the drool off the keyboard. I was lusting over the Chumby last week on my blog (I won’t post the link because I’m not trying to link-spam or flog or splog or whatever the right term is).
    What I’m wondering now is if you’re going to do some physical modding… and what you come up with. I’ve gathered from your other writing that you’re just the kind of guy who’ll have some fun with it. If you ever do then definitely do post, I’d love to see!
    =) best wishes

  • Design Translator

    March 29, 2007 at 8:26 am Reply

    Hi Marc,
    I’m still playing around with the widgets at the moment, and will figure out what to do with the housing in a bit. Quite likely I’m leaning towards a more craft like approach with wood instead of the cloth or bags products that are in the gallery.
    I read your article btw and I am agreement with you that it could be the next big thing.

  • trama

    April 11, 2007 at 7:54 pm Reply

    Ich erklare meinen Freunden uber diese Seite. Interessieren!

  • imparare

    April 15, 2007 at 2:04 pm Reply

    Interesting comments.. 😀

  • Lamp Store

    April 19, 2007 at 8:38 pm Reply

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