Archive for December, 2007

Are chumbys for sale, or what?

December 5, 2007

We’ve always sort of seen Chumby Industries as a different kind of consumer electronics company, with a different kind of development model. As great as we think this new model is — and hopefully a new, better, more satisfying and less wasteful direction for the industry where hardware platforms are open and the user community can enhance and extend the products they buy — it creates some interesting challenges and expectations from the legacy model for how things are done. What do you do with a hardware product that’s always improving and never “feature-complete?” When do you start selling it without risk of disappointing its buyers? If you start selling it to early buyers, what do you do about reviewers who want to report upon it as if it were a final and finished product? After all, that’s all they really ever see — essentially completed products, presented for judgment: “Here you go. So is it good or bad?” In contrast, the chumby is always in a state of continuous improvement — that’s the real innovation here — and it challenges the point-in-time judgment model (“Am I glad I bought this product or not?” “Was it worth the money?” “Here’s what’s good and what’s bad about this product!”) With Chumby, you’re buying into an “open development vector.” Huh? How in Hell does someone review or pass judgment on that? There’s the rub.

Some reviewers/blog-posters get this idea, and are pretty excited about it; some others don’t really understand it. Fortunately, most of the reviewers who don’t quite get the nature of this development model still like the chumby they’ve purchased. This is great — because they’re going to be ecstatic as we continue to improve it. Fortunately our early chumby buyers seem to be delighted too. Again, they ain’t seen nothing yet — and the good news is that they didn’t buy too early. The “Insiders Launch” chumby that Insiders buy now is identical to what buyers are going to get when we start selling more openly and publicly early next year. The software isn’t complete (it never will be) and it keeps getting updated, for free, automatically and over-the-air, with new and exciting features. For the latest example of this continuous improvement, check out our Forum to find out which new capabilities Insiders are getting an early look at — other than that, I’m sworn to secrecy for a couple more weeks ;^)

Insider buyers get to see their chumby’s new features and capabilities hot out of the oven — but they have to be prepared for these to be still somewhat half-baked at first. Of course they can always, or at some point may have to, simply “dial-back” to the earlier software that runs reliably — and we’ve tried to make this process super-easy. So feel free to buy a chumby now if what you want is to get in early and buy an unfinished product (again, this is a bit arbitrary because the cool thing about the chumby is that it’s always unfinished, always getting better), and if you want to be part of this new development model. Early chumby Insider buyers are very active on our Forum and we’re listening very closely to their feedback in order to improve the product for general release — many of the things they’ve asked for have already been automatically added to the product. However, if what you really want before you part with your $179.95 (includes shipping and handling) is the chumby’s software in its more complete and polished state, you can wait. As the Doritos ad goes, “We’ll make more.”

We have a ton of requests from the Press to get review copies of the chumby and we’re requesting that, even though we’re already selling early chumbys to Insiders, they wait until early next year when the product is ready for them to evaluate it. Some members of the Press are buying their own chumbys and writing reviews anyway. That’s fine with us, only we do remind them that reviews written now are, from a feature and capabilities standpoint, quickly rendered out-of-date. So we’re hoping that current reviewers will update their analyses and posts as they see their chumby developing over the next few weeks. Let the world know what you think of this new model. Maybe the best way for the press to review continuously improving products is not with newsprint but with continuously updated blogs :^)