Warm and cuddly aren't the terms that normally come to mind for electronic gadgets but the Chumby from Chumby Industries wants to make their device inviting to consumers and potential developers alike. The Chumby is a $200 WiFi-connected personal Internet appliance that gets its information and applications through Chumby's website following a simple online registration process that opens up access to so-called "widgets." These widgets can be selected and downloaded to an individual Chumby via a WiFi broadband connection once the device's identity is known to the host website.
Chumby's widgets consist of small applications such as games, news headlines, weather, Internet radio, current stock prices, music, short movies, social-media websites, picture files and customized alarm clocks. Additional free widgets can be downloaded to the registered Chumby at any time by logging into the Chumby network and making further PC-based selections. A WiFi access point must be available at all times to play/use the widgets that are paid for by Chumby Industries and sponsoring companies who may offer special products for sale. Chumby can also be used to monitor incoming e-mail on any POP3 account, track eBay auctions or play an iPod through Chumby's on-board stereo speakers. At press time, over 1,000 widgets are claimed to be available for the taking, covering 30 different application categories.
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A distinguishing attribute to the Chumby is its very open hardware/software environment. By making details available on all the inner workings, Chumby Industries actively encourages users to hack the device and develop new uses for the platform. While many electronic devices have their own supporting software development kit (SDK) environment for third parties, few are as open as the Chumby's, which provides access to everything from the hardware schematics to an open-source Linux-based software client.
Departure from tradition on the hardware side starts with the outward design of the Chumby. A soft leather cover stuffed with polyester batting surrounds the device's internal printed circuit boards and 3.5" touch screen LCD interface. The overall effect is something akin to a big beanbag with a color display slapped on the outside. In fact, along with the batting material, an actual beanbag sits underneath the skin to add to product heft and help it sit in stable--but squishy--form on a night-stand or kitchen counter. Even the packaging is different, with the Chumby shipping in a drawstring canvas bag versus the usual cardboard box.
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Additional user interface bits are kept simple with a soft-touch top button for activating a WiFi connection hidden underneath the skin. Just smack the top to set wheels in motion. A small back-panel sporting two USB jacks, an audio jack, On/Off switch, DC-power jack, and stereo speakers are joined by a pocket on the bottom side for holding the unit's 9-V backup battery, much like any alarm clock. Four circuit boards are used to implement the Chumby internals.