At this year's Foo Camp, Chumby Industries CEO Steve Tomlin and co-founder bunnie huang revealed the highly anticipated, pre-beta chumby. The chumby is a small, wifi-enabled, Linux touchscreen device designed for "people who want the Internet around them all the time." Applications include social networks, blogs, auctions, and so forth - essentially, anything that you want to include in your Internet highlight reel.
The alpha chumby was released at last year's Foo (click here for initial specs), to much fanfare. Here's what the company has done since then:
Functional updates - hardware
- Improved performance. Processor from 266 to 350 MHz. DRAM doubled to 64MB.
- Built-in microphone (someday, this can support Internet telephony)
- Hardware codecs H.264 and H.263
- Built-in accelerometer (think magic 8-ball, scrolling, and games)
- Removed the ambient light sensor (as not adding much value)
- Power draw down to 2.5 watts
- Changed the squeeze sensor from analog to binary - this used to be a force-sensing resistor, now its a mechanical switch which enables better tactile feedback
- Sleeker, sturdier casing. The benefit of having the electronics pop out from the soft alpha casing (easy cosmetic hack support) were outweighted by the disadvantages (seems to break constantly, since it pops out easily). So now the casing is glued shut in the mass retail product.
- Cleaner chumbilical enclosure
Ideally, the chumby will continue to improve as people add
accessories, and the open source community introduces both functional
and cosmetic hacks.
Functional updates - software
- Better Flash. Chumby will now use Flash Lite 3 for video and audio - in fact, chumby might be the first Flash Lite 3 device being launched. (Flash Lite 3 capabilities are based on desktop Flash 8.)
- Lock widgets in place (as vs. having it automatically roll to the next one in queue)
- Night mode/dimmer
- Ability to send widgets to someone else (your 'chum', of course) on the network
- Rate widgets
The company is now up to 23 on staff, which included adding Susan Kare (who worked on the interface and graphics for the first Mac) to the team as creative director. Apple-like sleekness and user friendliness appears to be well in hand.
Business model updates
The business model supporting chumby has also changed - most significantly, the widget network will now be free and ad-supported, rather than being sold as a subscription. Here's the plan as presented by Tomlin:
- Sell the chumby itself for as close to cost as possible, without losing money. This means a retail price of $179.95 fully delivered.
- Welcome chumbys to the Chumby Network for free, rather than requiring paid subscriptions. There, chumbys tune in to get Flash Light widget content, along with the occasional message.
- Sell more accessories to customize chumby - products on the design slate include limited edition colors, chumby charms made of silicon rubber (see photo), electronics-only kits (for those who want to design their own casing), a $25 FM radio adapter (receiver), and thumb drives with packaged content.
The company will roll out a closed beta in July, an 'Insider Launch' in August, and a full public release in the fall. This reflects a six-month push back from the original schedule, which the company attaches to both (a) longer lead time in setting up an Asian supply chain, and (b) wanting to include video at launch, therefore needing to set its release around Adobe's own product schedule.
(Author's PS: Per Foo Camp guidelines, this post was cleared by presenters Steve Tomlin and bunnie huang before sharing publicly.)