The Chumby was a product of its time, which was 2008. It was cute. It had a touchscreen. It ran a series of widgets that let it act as a photo gallery, weather station, news source, calendar, and social-media feed. It bravely soldiered on all these years up until the official Chumby widget service went offline about a year ago, taking much of the device's functionality with it.
Now, the official Chumby site includes a message reading: "After a year-long hiatus, the Chumby Service has finally been completely restored. The new service is a nearly complete rewrite of the original service - it's been brought up to date with newer technologies and made faster and more efficient than ever."
Chumby pretty much got blown out of the water by the growing onslaught of smartphones and tablets. Suddenly, the Chumby seemed like a quaint, outdated toy. But there's still something appealing about it, especially the first-generation device with its squishy, squeezable body. It's just so much more huggable than a cold tablet.
So, Chumby persisted, sitting next to people's beds as an alarm clock or lingering on desks with owners who couldn't quite bring themselves to unplug and recycle the little digital creatures. CNET's Rafe Needleman got his hands on a first-gen Chumby back in early 2008. He described it as a "sweet gadget," writing, "It's not a must-have device, but few gadgets I've used are as delightful."
The revived Chumby service requires a $3 monthly subscription fee (multiple devices under the same account don't cost extra). People who want to continue using hobbled versions of their Chumbys can continue as though nothing is different. Folks who own a related Sony Dash device aren't included in all this. Sony still handles the support for those gadgets.
Chumby owners in the official forum had a variety of reactions to the news of a subscription service, though most of the Chumby faithful have expressed outright joy. "I walked through my kitchen and saw a widget running on the good ol' Chumby and was overwhelmed with memory and emotion," writes user cbreeze. User Chatty Chum enthuses, "It has been an amazing wait but well worth it! My house is now a home! Did I say WOW?!?"
Not many tech devices inspire that kind of love six years after they debut. New people interested in joining the retro Chumby crowd will have to do a bit of hunting to find a device. There's a for-sale section in the Chumby forum, otherwise the gadgets occasionally appear on eBay. With the new service launching, perhaps there will be a Chumby revival along with a renewed cult following.