This page is an archive from our previous website. Please check out our new website where you can read new COMMENTARY eNewsletters, TELL IT LIKE IT IS blog posts or Press Releases.
The Chumby is a small clock radio that connects to "the Chumby network" via your own Wi-Fi and DSL or cable connection

Wireless Appliances

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A few weeks back, I wrote about my experiences with the Amazon Kindle and while it has Sprint EV-DO on board, it is only used for transport. No one even knows what the technology is―they only know that the books they buy show up. I used the Kindle as an example of what I expect to see starting this year: devices with embedded wireless to provide additional functionality. One example I have been using in my speeches is a wirelessly-enabled clock radio. The alarm time you set would automatically trigger an "on" code to the coffeepot fifteen minutes before you got up and perhaps turn your thermostat up a few degrees so the room would be warm when you got out of bed. I also said that with real-time traffic coming soon, I could envision the clock radio being updated as to your route to work, the status of the traffic, the weather and the other variables that come into play for your commute. The alarm time would be adjusted accordingly and, of course, the updates to the coffee pot and your heater would be automatic.


I picked up the Thursday, February 28 USA Today on a recent trip and in the second section I found a review by Edward C. Baig on a product called Chumby, a clock radio that is connected to you home computer network via Wi-Fi. I read the article and then went to the site to learn more. Here is what I found.


The Chumby is a small clock radio that connects to "the Chumby network" via your own Wi-Fi and DSL or cable connection. It costs $179.95 and is available in latte, basic black or pearl. It is easy to set up and has its own encryption set by matching white and black ovals on your computer and the device. Once that is done, you can use your computer and the Chumby site to set up your device. You can set the alarm time and programming such as wake to music, a weather report, stock market update or you name it, and if it's available, you can set it up as the default for your wake-up function. Chumby has a touch screen but no browser, and you can set it up to watch your stocks, check your bids on eBay, play games, view photos from Flickr, PhotoBucket, Facebook and MySpace and have it track your favorite sports teams. It also supports the ability to send and receive greeting cards from one unit to another, check your email (you cannot answer it), view MySpace and FaceBook pages and more.


Chumby has a touch screen and you invoke it by touching the top of the device. Mr. Baig did complain that there was no physical volume control. You have to use the menu system and then turn down the volume, which is a few extra steps and more time-consuming. The touch screen controls the content you have set up on your computer and other features and functions of the device. The USA Today reviewer said that the touch screen was not sensitive enough, but did work. The device is about 4 inches tall by 5 ? inches wide and the screen size appears to be adequate.


The reviewer liked the product overall, but did say that there was no battery back-up, which means it won't work during a power outage, but neither will your Wi-Fi access point or DSL/cable modem unless you have back-up power to them, and said that some of the handheld games were awkward because the device has to be plugged in to work, but other than that it is a very good first-generation product.


I will have to get one to play with, but perhaps I should wait for version 3.0 and see what else they come up with. On my list of must-haves for this type of wirelessly-enabled device in my home are the ability to "talk" to a ZigBee-enabled device so it can turn on my coffee pot, turn up the heater temperature, turn the TV and lights on and off and basically be used as a smart command-and-control console for my home. Then when we have the real-time traffic system in the United States that is being rolled out in Canada, there should be a way, probably through the website, to combine traffic and weather reports to help figure out if I really have to get up and face the day or if I can steal an extra few minutes.


Don't get me wrong, I am not negating this first effort. I think they have done a great job and, again, as with the Vmedia product I wrote about last week, the people at Chumby understand that this type of device without content is merely a device. In their press release, they mention that their partners, at time of launch, include CBS News and CBS Sports and Entertainment and that they also have deals with MTV and VHI,, MySpace, the Weather Channel and more. They use widgets, and on their website is a way a developer can build a widget for almost anything you can imagine.


The wireless alarm clock is here, and it is not only a clock and an alarm, it is also a window into whatever world you want it to be. Another example of what is coming at us is devices that serve a primary function that is not dependent on wireless but that gains additional features and functions with the addition of a wireless connection. Chumby version 1.0 looks like a great first product and I am looking forward to versions 2 and 3.


Andrew M. Seybold

COMMENTS: This is an archived post. Commenting is no longer available.

ken nicholas - 03/04/2008 13:15:20

To your point that "no one even knows what the technology is" (as well as previous blogs on municipal WiFi) I offer two recent letters to the editor from the Houston Chronicle.

Feb 13, 2008
How hard can WiFi be?
According to Friday's Chronicle, EarthLink has given up on providing WiFi to Houston . (Please see "Citywide WiFi put on hold for now / EarthLink sale ends project, but 10 areas may get the service free," City and State cover, Saturday.) How hard can it be, since has already done it? With my Kindle e-book reader, I can download a book from Amazon or other Web sites anywhere in Houston 24/7. I can also go to virtually anyplace on the Web; I am even able to read the Chronicle's comics page, and Amazon doesn't charge for the service.

Feb. 14 2008
WiFi or not? A misconception
In response to the letter Wednesday by reader Gene Doremus, "How hard can WiFi be?": Doremus thinks is providing free WiFi service for his Kindle e-book reader. It's a common misconception; past surveys showed a lot of people thought that Nokia, Motorola or LG provided their cell phone service because that was printed on their phone.
Doremus' e-book reader is able to access the Internet for "free" because it is taking advantage of WiFi access points that have not been secured by their owners. Some may be "open" on purpose, others due to the ignorance of the owners. While Doremus means no harm, criminals take advantage of these unsecured access points, too.
The Woodlands

Andrew Seybold - 03/04/2008 13:22:09

Ken--good points, thanks, the Kindle, which I love, uses Sprint's EV-DO Rev A network as you probably know--interesting that others think it is Wi-FI, how hard can it be? Pretty darn hard!!!
And Gumby uses Wi-Fi in a house, not wide-area so it is using Wi-Fi as it is intended to be used

Drew Lentz - 03/04/2008 13:59:06

It's sad that the misconception of EV-DO vs. WiFi is not realized .. if only everyone realized with a Sprint, Verizon, or ATT card they could be using bandwidth almost anywhere across the country ...

The Chumby looks grat though .. If they were to get together with MSN Direct or Google (with their traffic overlays they build into their Maps and Earth) it would take care of your traffic problem!

Andrew Seybold - 03/04/2008 15:15:45

Drew--yes it is a shame but because Wi-FI is so prevalent in homes and offices today there is a false assumption. But as we get more and more converged it will matter less.
As for real-time traffic on the Gumby, please see my commenary from last November: to see what we are really in for. It is up and running in Toronto and I am just leaving Toronto, but I have been watching traffic in real time on my notebook for the past few days and it is working great.

Dave Whetstone - 03/06/2008 09:36:24

I've had a Chumby for a few months and am quite fascinated by the possibilities. Just playing around with the thing is pretty cool. I have real-time stock quotes, weather maps of Tahoe, My Flickr photos, Facebook status updates, and even see Shamu swim by on a web cam. This is the first of many such innovations and I would highly recommend getting the Chumby to start experiencing the possibilities.

The other lesson from Chumby is the power of configuration on the Web. Andy, I know this is a subject you are passionate about and you know that my business, Clonefone, is focused on bringing that to mobile phones. With Chumby, you set up and configure all your widgets on the web and they sync with the device. You can even watch a virtual Chumby online. Stay tuned for more on Clonefone...

Andrew Seybold - 03/06/2008 11:34:03

David--thanks for the entry, I agree that Chumby is worth experimenting with and am in the process of obtaining one. And you are correct, I do beleive VERY strongly that we should be able to configure our mobile devices and appliances using a web-interface on our desktop computers. As interesting as the iPhone is, for example, their web-interface is terrible, and you cannot set any perimeters or optional settings on the phone except on the phone. The Chumby folks seem to have done a great job of leting a customer do this, and I look forward to being able to experience it for myself, just as I am waiting for your product to be introduced. I hope I won't have to wait much longer!!!!!