Wireless AppliancesSaturday, 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, Spike.com, 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