It’s small and squeezable, but Chumby is far more than just a cute little leather-clad beanbag. It's arguably the first consumer-level internet appliance — a versatile gadget designed to deliver a constant stream of personalised information updates on almost any topic.
With built-in wireless networking (Wi-Fi), motion sensor, stereo speakers, two USB ports and 3.5-inch touchscreen, Chumby has the potential to be an information and entertainment hub. In a nutshell, Chumby exists to display widgets — little internet applications each designed to do one specific thing.
You may already be familiar with the widget concept on your PC through Yahoo Widgets, Mac OS X Widgets or even Windows Vista Gadgets. Widgets can include weather, news, music, podcasts, sports scores, humour, stock prices, eBay and other auctions, photos, video clips, interactive games and much more.
The idea with Chumby is for you to personalise it for your own needs by picking the widgets that appeal to you. In fact, no two Chumbys need show exactly the same thing. There are literally hundreds of widgets available for Chumby, and new widgets are being added regularly to the dozens of categories on the Chumby website.
You can create multiple widget collections, called ‘channels’ and switch between them in the Chumby control panel, where you can set your preferences for sound volume, alarms, music sources, and general settings. The control panel is accessed by tapping a hidden button on top of the unit, called the Squeeze Sensor.
Chumby navigation is done entirely by tapping the touchscreen with a fingernail or stylus. Once a channel is selected, you can set Chumby to cycle through all the widgets in the channel or set it to ‘stick’ with one widget in particular. And if you don’t have a widget that covers your area of interest and you’re technically inclined, you can create your own widgets using Adobe Flash Lite 3.0. In addition, music lovers can use Chumby as a mini boombox, accessing internet radio stations or even plugging in an iPod to play through the stereo speakers.
- Reasonably easy to set up and use.
- Customisable and versatile.
- Many ready-made widgets available.
- Must be plugged into mains power.
- Requires wireless internet connection.
- Relatively expensive.
Please note: this information was current as of March 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
After being previewed to developers in 2006 and released commercially in the U.S. in early 2008, this long-awaited internet information gadget was brought to Australia in November by internet service provider (ISP) Internode (chumby.on.net).
Being relatively new here, Australia-specific content is still fairly limited. The Internode channel lists local widgets for news and weather services, but you can expect others to follow once the local developer community gets behind the product.
Using a PC, you can customise your personal content on the My Chumby section of the Chumby web page (www.chumby.com). Create or select a channel and add or delete widgets from the category and widget list. Any widgets added appear automatically when you turn on your Chumby and load that channel.
Some widgets, such as the ‘Newest Widgets’ widget, which shows a constantly passing parade of new additions, even let you add other widgets directly on the Chumby itself.
Owning a Chumby is a tactile experience. The touchscreen uses fingertip navigation and the size, shape and soft padded leather exterior invites you to pick it up and play with it, especially for games. Chumby’s motion sensor detects the speed and direction of movement so it can respond to being picked up and moved around — useful for flicking through widgets or in games such as Chumball or Tumbler.
Because the Linux-based device is open source, Chumby’s creators hope helpful hackers will expand its capabilities to eventually make it indispensible for the rest of us.
High on our wish list for Chumby would be better touchscreen responsiveness, listed for the 2009 model. A built-in battery for future models would seem to be a no-brainer, giving this handy little device the true portability it deserves, though it’s not officially on the drawing board. Perhaps that’s a project for the hackers.
If you like online connected gadgets, Chumby could be your new best friend. It can help you stay in touch with what’s happening on the net while you’re away from your computer and its capabilities can be expanded at the tap of a finger. Chumby could easily become the cornerstone of your internet information addiction. At the very least it’s kinda cute and a sure-fire conversation starter.