Chumby: Digital picture frame for parents and much more

I want to get my parents a digital picture frame. But at the moment I cannot. That’s because I don’t want my somewhat less-technical parents to have to fiddle with memory cards, choosing and transferring photographs or running Vista.

My ideal digital picture frame for them would be one sitting in a living room or a bedroom with new photos to delight my parents every so often.

Such a device would have to be:

  • Wi-Fi capable - My parents have a wireless router and there is no point for a picture frame to sit next to the computer
  • Able to pull content from private online photo account, such as Flickr or PicasaWeb, to which our extended family could push photos
  • No ongoing monthly costs - subscription would make it a gift that keeps taking, rather than giving
  • Controllable over the internet
  • Ideally with speakers and/or some way to show video to be more future proof

I have been on a lookout for such a device for more than a year and had no luck. Obviously, digital picture frames are still a personal purchase rather than a gift one. Or maybe less technical parents is a smaller niche than I imagine.

But I have hope. Yesterday, I have received a small package that contained a Chumby! Chumby is not a digital picture frame. It is quite small (I think the website’s image is real-size). But it has features that make up for its size.

It has Wi-Fi access, including password-protected; it has no monthly costs; it is configured over the internet and comes with speakers. It also has touch sensitive screen, microphone and accelerometer (like in Wii controller).

Notice I did not say anything about pictures or videos. That’s because Chumby is a more generic device. It allows to choose what widgets run on it and a widget is a program written in Flash, the same environment that allows us to watch Flickr slide-shows and youTube videos, listen to internet radio and play casual games. It can also double as alarm clock and iPod music player.

More importantly, because anybody can develop and share a widget, I am not married to any particular way of presenting photos. Flickr widget exists already, but other photo and video service widgets are on the way.

And, if I am still unhappy, I can write my own widgets. Chumby runs Linux under the covers and Flash Lite 3 interface. And, differently from Apple’s position with iPhone, Chumby Industries encourage people to modify their software, hardware and even basic device shape. Already, there are compilation packages for python, perl and even Java (actually JamVM).

Chumby is not yet for public sale, but that should happen any day now. I was on a mailing list, so got a pre-release invite. That is good, as it means I have some time to really play with my Chumby.

And if all goes well, my Chumby will soon have a new friend or two hiding under the Christmas tree overseas.