Saturday, April 21, 2012

RIP Chumby

Today I am taking a short break from the Scrum for SharePoint series to cover another topic near and dear to my heart.

Insignia Infocast 3.5"
The Insignia Infocast 3.5 by Best Buy
(similar to the Chumby One).
Way back in the mid-2000s, before we had the iPhone or Android or even webOS, a little company named Chumby appeared on the scene with a neat gadget that was going to replace your clock radio with something much cooler. Prototypes of the Chumby came out in 2006 and 2007, and the first widely-available consumer version was released in 2008. I was very excited to see the Chumby appear on the scene, in part because I was sad that the 3Com (Palm) Audrey had failed so miserably back in 2000.

It's hard to remember, but back in 2008, there was not much out there like the Chumby. The iPhone and Android operating systems were relatively new and still gaining traction. There were zero consumer grade tablets available on the market. Even with the iPhone and Android out there, they were geared towards phone devices. There were definitely no clock radio gadgets to compete with Chumby. So theoretically, the Chumby had a good chance to succeed.

The Chumby is not a tablet and it is not a phone or iPod-like device. It really has no equivalent out there in the world. It is first and foremost an internet clock radio. Think of your old Sony Dream Machine, add in the likes of Pandora and Shoutcast internet music and podcast services, and add the ability to change the clock face to one of hundreds of different options. That is a Chumby.

There are other things a Chumby can do, like display news feeds, Facebook, Twitter, internet web cams, and more. Yet at its core, the Chumby is a clock radio that can get live content from the internet.

Sony Dash
My boys really enjoy the Sony Dash. We have it
in our dining room.
I bought a Chumby One for my dad in 2009. At first, he didn't know what to do with it, but over time he came to appreciate the different clocks faces to choose from and its ability to play Pandora and other internet music services.

I got my first "Chumby" in 2010 when I picked up a Sony Dash for a relatively good price. However, even though I got a "deal" at the time, price was one of Chumby's downfalls: the Dash list price was $200 at the time--I think I got my for a "steep discount" at $150--and the Chumby-branded units were not much cheaper.

The Dash was a step up from the Chumby, as it had internet video as well. You could (and can still) get Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus video, among other choices. So it was worth a slight premium over the much smaller Chumby One (3.5" screen vs. 7" screen), but still a bit expensive for what you got.

Bathroom media station
We have installed the Insignia Infocast 3.5 in our master
bathroom media station.
Later in 2010 I picked up Best Buy's Insignia branded version of the Chumby One, the Infocast 3.5. This time I got it for under $45 and had a $25 gift card to boot. Now that was a deal. Under $50 would have been the perfect price point to allow the Chumby to be more successful.

Alas, regular prices didn't get much lower than $100, most people didn't understand why they needed one in addition to their iPhones and iPads, and therefore not many units were sold. In 2011 Sony stopped making the Dash. Around that time Best Buy also stopped making the Infocast line. Later in the year, Chumby itself stopped making hardware as well, leaving the Chumby platform flailing around a little bit without much support. The company said they were going to focus on a connected TV platform, but nothing much came of it.

Just the other day, Chumby announced that the whole team had moved on to new things at Technicolor and that there was no one left at Chumby to turn the lights off.

The Chumby network is still up and running--for now--but much like what happened to services like ReplayTV, it could be shut off at any time. This leads to one of my ongoing concerns with this particular platform: it is 100% dependent on having a network connection to work at all. Without a WiFi or optional Ethernet connection, a Chumby is essentially worthless. There isn't even a way to boot up a Chumby in to a disconnected mode. The thing just stops at the "Connecting to Network" screen and gives up.

(As an aside, there are some ways to run some Chumby devices offline. One example is: Zurk's Chumby One/Infocast 3.5 firmware and Zurk's Infocast/Chumby 8 firmware.)

Another issue was the app platform: all Chumby apps were free and had to be build on the Adobe Flash platform. While that worked well enough for the most part, there are two issues with it: no way for developers to make any money, and somewhat limiting of a platform. The Chumby is based on a modified Linux kernel, but won't run regular Linux or Android apps without major modifications. So it's a relatively closed platform.

I guess even back in 2008 we could see the writing on the wall, but I still had high hopes that a device dedicated to being an internet clock radio could survive. I still think there is a place for a Chumby-like device, with some tweaks to the platform. Using a phone or tablet as a stationary clock or radio is not always practical or economical. Sure, as an individual I can use my Android phone as an alarm or an iPad as a Pandora music player, but what about family or group situations? Sometimes a dedicated device is useful.

Maybe something else will come about to take Chumby's place? Or Chumby will get picked up by another company and the legacy will continue? I can only hope.

UPDATE: Chumby is dead. Long live Chumby!

33 comments:

RichTeel said...

I had missed the announcement that they were basically shutting down. That is too bad as i too love these devices. I have three of them and really find them useful.

I hope the network does not go down anytime soon but will look into the two options that you listed in your blog as I hope to still use the devices.

BTW: I wrote a few widgets for the Chumby platform and wrote a blog on how to write widgets without using Adobe's tools. It is at chumbydev.blogspot.com.

Joelsef said...

Hi Rich,

Which devices do you have?

Yeah, I'm hopeful that someone will buy the Chumby network assets and keep it running. Maybe even progress it? We can dream.

Joel

RichTeel said...

I have two Chumby Ones and one Chumby 8.

BTW: I wrote two apps which are on Chumby's site.
Clocks > Federation Analog Clock
Communications > TxtMsg

Galadriel said...

Zurk's chumby one software is working really well for me.

If I were looking for a chumby-like device at this point, rather than a chumby, I think I'd pick up one of the really cheap (<$100) Android tablets.

I could find Android apps that will do most of what I needed the chumby for--Xtreme Alarm Clock, for example, has all the same wonderful control-freak alarm settings, but even has a better interface (oh, MAN, I hate the chumby alarm clock interface... I ssh in and edit the alarms file by hand if I need to alter or add an alarm).

Heck, if I really wanted something just like the chumby, I could just use chumby's Android app.

It's too bad; we have two chumbys, and we really like them; they're oh-so useful, for our purposes. But at this point, there are just better technology options than the chumby.

Anonymous said...

Chumby's really not dead. All this RIP talk came from one comment by the former CEO Oien, who screwed the users and left. But 5 months after the "death," the servers are still up,the forums are jumping and the community is figuring out ways to keep the devices running, sometimes better than before. Really good stuff to see if you value the spirit of truly Open Source platforms. Check out the forum at:
http://forum.chumby.com/index.php

Maybe some of you can help us keep the lights on! Chumby's no Android, but at least what you're doing doesn't go through Google.

Joelsef said...

Yeah, I was using a little hyperbole when I said Chumby is dead. Just a little. :-)

However, while there is a vibrant open source community out there ready to support it, will that support be enough to keep it alive?

Chumby is dead, long live Chumby?

KatoomRXC said...

In troubleshooting a persistently unavailable Pandora connection for my Infocast 8, I see the Chumby forum is now locked. That is, any page request, even a login, shows a "banned" screen.

Anyone else seeing this?

Galadriel said...

Yes, I'm getting the "blocked" message too.

Ed S. said...

Yes, Pandora has stopped working for me on all of our chumby devices in our house. And I can't seem to bring up the forums. I can get to my chumby online account and see the channels, etc. I'm hoping the open source community will help extend the life some more.

Joelsef said...

Ugh. I just checked and Pandora doesn't work on my Insignia Infocast 3.5 (similar to the Chumby One) anymore.

Still works on the Sony Dash, but I know that goes through Sony's servers not Chumby's.

Is anyone home at Chumby at all? The fact that the chumby.com home page makes no mention of the shutdown makes me a little more than a bit worried that our Chumby devices are doomed.

Galadriel said...

Well, folks, we are at least a little in luck:
"ChumbyWiki dumped with WikiTeam tools."
http://archive.org/details/wiki-wiki.chumby.com

Joelsef said...

So the Pandora app started working again on my Insignia Infocast 3.5 (aka Chumby One) last night.

Anybody know why it was offline earlier in the weekend?

Galadriel said...

Pandora and chumby.com were not playing nice with each other. Duane (if I understand correctly) managed to get them to work together again--and restored the forum and the wiki too. Great guy.

So they're not permanently dark, but this was a sort of preview of things to come, I think.

Joelsef said...

Oh...any idea why were they not playing nice?

Galadriel said...

Aaaah... Duane discussed it a little on the forums, but they're in "maintenance mode" again so I can't go look.

Dale Ogilvie said...

I didn't realize/know that the Chumby was in trouble. I love mine and have used it for a few years now. It stopped working and I rebooted it as usual but still no go? So I went to the website and it's not loading? So does that mean it has gone belly up? Still clinging on hope that it's just down temporarily as opposed to dead per this discussion thread.

Joelsef said...

Hi Dale,

My Chumby (Insignia Infocast) stopped working today as well. This could be the beginning of the end.

Joel

Anonymous said...

My daughter was using my wife's as an alarm clock. It started asking for an activation tonight, at which point, I realized that chumby.com was down.

Andy Adams said...

I did a search to try and find out if this was the end for my device and ended up here... It's a sad day! I bought my chumby back in 4/2008. It's quirky, but it has been streaming Pandora faithfully for several years.

FYI, my screen just shows "Unabled to download control panel...". Chumby.com is down. I assume its the end.

Anyway, after reading your post I thought I should offer a virtual shoulder to cry on and see if anyone out there had any additional information.

Joelsef said...

Chumby (well, the guy that runs their servers, as the company no longer exists) has said it's an unplanned outage and they're working on it. So it's not a lost cause...yet.

John Wolfe said...

I really hope this is not the end. I have two devices, and though a little quirky, I have always enjoyed them

Galadriel said...

Folks, this page has all you need for whatever variety of Chumby you have:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/zurk/forums/forum/12064/topic/5288327

You can read some more about it here, as long as you can access forum.chumby.com:
http://forum.chumby.com/viewtopic.php?id=7832

John Wolfe said...

I got the Zurk software. However in reading it, it seems to need access to your Chumby Profile. If the Chumby server is actually gone, would this profile be avaiable?

Galadriel said...

Well, it looks like Chumby is back up for now, so go grab it while you can...

But there are instructions out there that also tell you how to find the cache of your profile on your physical chumby, and convert that instead. I can't point you to them, but the people at the sourceforge page above probably can.

(Argh, I really hate posting on blogger, the captchas have gotten a lot harder to read.)

John Wolfe said...

Oh that is very kewl. Thank you so much for the information. It is very appreciated. Truly. 8-)

bobsz said...

Chumby is actually alive and (pretty) well right now- a great community effort. (Better since the company died!) Galadriel and all, come back to the forum and wish Chumby and (amazing) sixth anniversary-

http://forum.chumby.com/viewtopic.php?id=8290

And yes, you can retrieve your profiles, and add firmware to keep things running if the servers are down. Things actually seem a little more optimistic over there- Come put in a kind word for Duane and the others keeping things going- great community spirit. BTW, Pandora and iheart radio have been acting up on other types of devices, too- seems they want money more than love.

Come check in on the forum, and leave a "Happy Birthday Chumby" note. 6 years old - older than the iPhone!
bobsz

Autumn said...

Hi Joel,
I am thinking about getting a used Sony Dash or Grace Mondo for the kitchen. Do you still recommend the Dash? I've hear it's on the way out...Thanks!

Joelsef said...

Hi Autumn,

If you can get a Sony Dash for a really good price, it's probably worth it. Sony is going to support it for a while. They've split their servers from Chumby's, so they're not dependent on Chumby anymore.

The Mondo might be better, if it's supported. Sony will keep the lights on for the Dash, but there aren't any new Sony or Chumby apps coming out. It does Pandora and Slacker and MP3s just fine, but there won't be many updates, if any at all. God forbid something breaks.

That said, it's still nice. I'm still waiting for an Android based clock to come out. A tablet or phone is just not a good alternative.

Joel

Ray McVay said...

I have a Sony S (with a Chumby app) and Sony is now warning us the service can disappear at any time. I assume it runs off their servers and that will be the end of the Dash, too. With good community support, Chumby may actually outlast Dash.

Joelsef said...

Hi Ray,

Uh oh! We still like the Dash as a clock and use it to listen to Pandora and Slacker internet radio.

I figure those servers (along with Chumby's own servers) would go offline at some point, I was just hoping for five years down the road instead of 2013. Wishful thinking?

I haven't seen any community support for the Sony Dash. Is anyone working on bootable USB drives for it?

Joel

Sascha Grant said...

I watched the development of the Chumby and eagerly awaited the time when they would ship to Australia.

It was (and still is) simply fantastic to have running in my lounge.

I got my Chumby one running in off-line mode last night. Went through and picked 100 of my fav. clock faces, downloaded my profile and put it all on a USB stick.

I'm kind of sad now, thinking that those 100 clocks will be the last things I ever load on to it :(

Joelsef said...

Hi Sascha,

How did you offload the clock faces and profile to your Chumby for offline viewing?

Does Pandora still work?

Joel

Sascha Grant said...

Hi Joel,
I used the app that francesco has written - http://forum.chumby.com/viewtopic.php?pid=42614#p42614

Along with Zurk's offline firmware.

Hope that helps.

If you get stuck, email me & I'll see if I can't help :) You'll find my email here -
http://www.ibuildrockets.com/

Cheers,
Sascha.