Calling all developers: Chumby moves from hardware to software, and it needs your help

Chumby Hat Developers

It takes a village to move a company’s focus from hardware to software. San Diego-based Chumby is making that move, and it’s calling out to the developer village for help.

The company’s original focus was hardware, specifically a cute, little alarm clock that runs hundreds of apps in 29 categories on top of a Linux OS.  The company calls the device “a window into your internet life that lives outside your desktop.” Those alarm clocks are still being made and updated, but now the company is calling itself a content platform that serves flash-based apps across “hundreds of thousands” of Chumby-powered devices, including the Best Buy Connected Insignia TV.

“We’ve found ourselves in an interesting situation of going from a three-inch screen to a 50 inch screen,” says CEO Derrick Oien. Chumby alarm clocks have 3.5″ LCD touchscreens, 350 MHz ARM processors, 64 MB of memory and 64 MB of flash ROM. Now the company’s software enables large-screen TV’s to access apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Photobucket, Accuweather and Reuters News.

“A lot of what needs to happen is around the developer piece,” says Oien. “Chumby investors want the company to drive scale and deploy a media network. Developers are going to make that possible.”

Oien spoke to VentureBeat exclusively about Chumby’s campaign to increase its number of Flash apps.

“While the [equipment manufacturers] invest money on glass and display, they are putting low-end processors in televisions,” says Oien. “We launched the Chumby 8 with Flash Lite 4 with ActionScript 3. This opens it to more modern development.”

The pressure to scale rests on Oien’s shoulders. Brought onto the executive team about a year ago, he’s a self-proclaimed geek who talks about development easily. During our conversation, I actually keep checking my notes to make sure I’m speaking with a CEO and not a CTO.

“The television ecosystem is fragmented,” he says. “The majority of TVs are Adobe-based Stagecraft. Each version of Stagecraft is a bit different and it’s a challenge to implement them across multiple platforms. The benefit of working on an open platform is large scale distribution. The benefit is a larger audience. You can see this being possible with LG or Samsung.”

One way Oien is hoping to scale is with a new developer contest for Flash apps. It starts today, and the winner gets $2500. Chumby is looking for AS2 and AS3 Flash apps (they can help create things like photo galleries, menus, and databases) for its content platform and devices. These “family friendly” apps can range from games and entertainment to news and productivity. Apps like the ones that got me through the first weeks of being stuck in bed with a newborn baby: Shamu Cam, NPR’s top stories of the day, 60 Minutes, Twitter and, yes, TechCrunch. My phone was off and my lap was for the baby, not the computer. Chumby kept me connected to the world from my alarm clock, and the apps were just as critical to that connectivity as the hardware.

Chumby’s developer contest will judge apps based on creativity, design and the development and implementation. It ends on September 30, 2011 and the winner will be announced in October. More details are available on the company’s website.