The blogosphere this week is all abuzz about the supposedly desire-inducing Upravlator. The awkwardly-named hardware comes from Art Lebedev, the mysterious designer who first promised the Optimus Keyboard, a unique “design concept” with tiny color displays under each key. That indeed sounds cool, but instead, after months of delays and promises, the shipping product turned out to be the Optimus Three, with three little displays that double as buttons. Full keyboard with displays: interesting. Three display buttons with no real function: erm? Instead of spending about US$150 on an Optimus Three, why not a Nintendo DS Lite? Which do you think would be more useful?

This week, we get the Upravlator. Imagine a powerful interactive piece of hardware that connects to your computer’s video port and dynamically displays, in full color, everything from interface widgets to graphics and video to dynamic Web content, all completely customizable for your own needs. Sounds unbelievably useful, right? Good thing we already have such a device: it’s called a monitor. Want touch input? It’s called a touchscreen monitor. Now take that monitor, divide it up into a tiny 4×3 grid, eliminating a significant portion of its usable space. Replace the full resolution of the touchscreen with 12 buttons (thousands of levels of resolution reduced to a dozen). Put it in a big bulky case, wait until 2007 to ship it (presumably for some enormous price), and require developers to rewrite software to use it. Now you’re getting the picture:

Upravlator Product Announcement [ official site]
The Upravlator unveiled [DVguru]
Art Lebedev explains Upravlator to five year olds, no one else [Engadget]
(and, like a zillion other blogs)

Worst of all, the Upravlator takes up lots of desk real estate and a free VGA port — two things better dedicated to a real monitor, especially when touchscreen monitors are coming down in price.

The dynamic keyboard remains a cool product. It may come in at an astronomical price, but the concept is good: take the physical feedback and ease of a great hardware input device (keyboard) and add dynamic visuals to make it more flexible. By contrast, the Upravlator and the Optimum Mini Three are useful neither as displays nor as input devices and actually reduce efficiency. We’ll wait for the Optimus-113 keyboard, if it can actually ship.

Don’t be too sad, though. You want gadget lust? Chumby’s got your gadget lust. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this homebrewed, open source, hackable gadget soon, because Team CDMo desperately wants one right now. Let’s compare:

An alarm clock:

  1. Low-res display
  2. Low-quality sound
  3. Fixed content (pre-programmed alarm facility, pre-built radio)
  4. Non-hackable (well, you could … but why?)

An Upravlator:

  1. 12 very small displays in a grid
  2. Large form factor
  3. Lots of blank space
  4. 12 buttons
  5. Basic programmability / no hackability

A Chumby:

  1. A display
  2. Small form factor (easy to transport, store, put on your desk, stick anywhere)
  3. Built-in sound
  4. Connectivity with music onboard, on computer, on portable players
  5. Built-in Wi-Fi
  6. Support for IM, dynamic content, programmable content
  7. Flash support
  8. Squeeze sensor for interaction
  9. Developer resources and community site
  10. Totally hackable, inside and out (there are even patterns for customizing the exterior)

The Chumby is something I could actually imagine putting to use, in performances, in installations, by my computer, by my bed. It’s a more elegant design, and it can be customized to be whatever you like. It does things your computer and peripherals can’t (be easily moved, easily programmed, all while remaining independently connected to Wi-Fi, etc.). And the target price is intended at US$150. Now if we could just buy the thing … stay tuned. And yes, we want one — for adding Flash animations, for designing custom interfaces, for hacking, for hugging.

Chumby Industries