This desktop toy really smacks of the late '90s dot-com era. At what other time in history would we become so cavalier about the stock market that we would monitor it by the color of an opalescent orb?
Well, it's 2004, and the Ambient Devices Ambient Orb is still here, thanks to its strangely enduring appeal. Although it looks like a prop from Woody Allen's Sleeper, the $150 Orb has stood the test of time better than the film. Aside from the direction of the stock market, it can also be set to reflect the weather forecast and other information, all by its changing colors. That's all it does.
The Orb is driven by wireless data sent over paging networks. Ambient Devices claims that 90 percent of the U.S. population can receive its network signal and can therefore use the Orb. There is no wired backup connection.
Basic tracking of the Dow and your local weather forecast is free with the Orb. Just open the box, plug the 4.5-inch-diameter frosted-glass Orb into a wall outlet, and watch it go to work. Green means the market is trending up, yellow means it is neutral, and red means it is trending down. The weather forecast works in a similar manner. You go to a Web page to choose which data your Orb will display.
If you want the Orb to monitor more specific information, such as your personal stock portfolio or whether your kids are online, you'll pay $6.95 per month or $19.95 per quarter for a premium connection account. That seems rather steep for a device that has no text display.
Like most products in this category, the Ambient Orb succeeds as much as a conversation piece as a useful tool. But Ambient Devices seems serious about enabling humans to use "the cognitive-psychology phenomenon called preattentive processing." All we know is that we like this thing.