Sony Tablets Open New Opportunities for San Diego’s Chumby

8/31/11Follow @bvbigelow

[Updated 8/31/11, 3:30 pm. See below.]The new 9.4-inch Tablet S that Sony is introducing today includes many features that the consumer electronics giant hopes will be compelling for users, including access to Sony’s network of PlayStation video games, music, movies, and other entertainment services. The Android-based tablet also can “throw” steaming video or music to Sony’s Bravia HDTV and other devices certified by the Digital Living Network Alliance.

But it’s the catalog of free apps that are available when the tablet is idling or recharging that has San Diego-based Chumby Industries CEO Derrick Oien contemplating a vista of new opportunities.

As we’ve recounted previously, Chumby began in 2006 with an electronic device that’s partly an Internet-enabled clock radio, Web terminal, and streaming video and music player, and part soft stuffed toy. Yet the company really was conceived as a software services company, a strategy that began to blossom early last year when Sony unveiled the Dash, an Internet-enabled device akin to the Chumby “Classic,” which Sony created with its own hardware and design, and software licensed from Chumby.

By this time last year, when Oien stepped in as Chumby CEO, the company had more than 1,500 Internet apps in its portfolio, and was working to expand its partnerships with Best Buy and other consumer electronics companies. Last month, the company revealed that its apps would be available on set-top boxes from Pace, the U.K.-based developer of digital TV technologies.

When I talked with Oien this morning, he said Chumby has had a lot of discussions with Sony about its “dark screen” strategy, which basically enables an Internet-connected clock, digital picture frame, and other apps to appear on the display screen of an idle device. “Chumby is really like a music player,” Oien says. “But instead of playing music we play apps, like your Twitter feed, news, and sports.”

[Updated to clarify chumby is pre-loaded just on Tablet S] Placing Sony’s Tablet S into a specialized charging cradle, which Sony sells separately, automatically converts the tablet’s display into a digital photo frame or clock. Oien says users also can access more than 1,500 other Chumby apps by registering  for a free Chumby account. “Every single Sony tablet now shipping will have our software baked into their device,” Oien says. (A chumby spokeswoman clarified that chumby’s software is pre-loaded only on the Tablet S set for launch in September, and not Tablet P, the clamshell-style tablet that Sony is planning for later release.)

While Chumby was always a software services company, the new strategy has really come into focus over the past year or so. The company, which has raised … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • anon

    Chumby is terrible stuff, but at least Chumby is modifiable by its users.

    Chumby has 1500 apps. By far, the majority of those apps are funky clocks, because that is all the device can really do.

    The Sony Dash is total crap because Sony took out the ability for users to modify it. Sony started with an easily modifiable device and removed the ability to modify it.

    And ask Sony, most Chumby applications will not work on the Dash.

    The Sony Dash is one of the biggest wastes of money around. Mine is used only as a clock. As a clock it’s not bad, just way too expensive.

    Sony was so stupid, they didn’t even put in a battery, so you are foolish to use it as an alarm clock.

    A terrible, terrible product.

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  • Neil Katin

    I guess I disagree with anon about the usefulness of my Chumby; I use it as an internet radio player, and it works great for that.

    Alas, Sony took that ability out too.

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