I am always looking for network-connected devices that truly add value to our client's broadband connected homes. Of course we all know about the value of our laptop and office computers connected to broadband Internet in the home, and we have come to love our Pandora- and Rhapsody-enabled Sonos whole-house audio systems, but what about the Internet appliances that we heard so much about at the beginning of this decade? Remember the Internet-enabled oven, refrigerator, coffee pot and so on?
Well, many of those ideas have come and gone; they were clever ideas that were just not ready for prime time. But late last year I read about a new Internet appliance device called Chumby (www.chumby.com), and after purchasing one earlier this year and using it on a daily basis, I can strongly endorse it as a must-have product for our connected-home clients.
An Amped Up Alarm Clock
So what exactly is a Chumby? The simplest answer (for my usage) is that it is a bedroom alarm clock that always has the correct time. But chumby is also a consumer Internet device that lets people receive a constant personalized broadcast of their favorite parts of the Web, like the latest news, weather, and entertainment, as well as the ability to share photos, widgets, and e-cards. (Technically speaking Chumby is built upon a 350MHz ARM processor running Linux with 64MB of SDRAM and 64MB of NAND flash and a 3.5-inch 320x240 resolution touchscreen capable of playing video or displaying photos.)
After using Chumby to display photos, news, traffic reports, and even weather, I've come to the conclusion that I can get all of that information from my always-on, Internet-enabled computer in the office. What I really needed for my wife and I was a bedroom alarm clock that had the following features:
- A clock that would always give the accurate time and I wouldn't have to reset it each time the power goes down
- One that could easily be set for different wake up times, one for me, one for my wife
- A snooze button that is easy to set and customize
- Wake-up music customized to my preferences
- A clock that I could easily read from anywhere in the room, yet that could be dimmed at night so I wouldn't be kept awake by a brightly illuminated display.
Chumby does all those things easily and elegantly. Setting up multiple alarm times is simply done from an on-screen menu that lets you store customized alarm settings that include the wake-up time, your preferred "snooze" time, and the music that comes on when the alarm sounds. The wake-up music can come from your own MP3 music collection or from a wide variety of Internet music streaming sites. Best of all, each of these alarm parameters can be set independently so when my wife sets her alarm she has her own "snooze" and alarm music choices and I have mine. Once the alarm is set at night, we select the night-mode option and the bright, easy-to-read clock dims to a level that can be easily seen up close, but that is not a sleep-time distraction.
Leveraging the Digital Home
The Chumby leverages the assets of the digital home we create for our clients. All of our clients' homes have broadband Internet access, a router, and multiple wireless access points. Chumby uses the home's networking infrastructure to accurately set the clock (even after a power failure) and to provide Internet streaming wake-up music.
Even if the Internet goes down in the middle of the night, Chumby has a CPU clock that will continue to accurately tell time and wake you up at the time you have set with its internal beep alarm.
When I reflect back on groundbreaking networking IP-based products in the home over the last eight years that have gained significant traction and use in our client's home I think of Sonos for whole-house music systems, Kaleidescape for whole-house digital movie distribution, and now I'll go out on a limb and say that Chumby will redefine our expectations for the master bedroom alarm clock radio.
At $180 it is not an inexpensive alarm clock, but for our clients that have spent more than six figures for our customized integrated electronic solutions for their home, it's a nice gift we can give them that they will use every day, and remind them of our company's services each time they use it. In my opinion, that's an investment worth making.