On March 21st, Sony will effectively be abandoning their fledgling Dash service and line of devices. On that date, the developer forums and contact emails will be permanently closed, meaning any developer who still wishes to work on Dash applications is on their own. This comes just a month after Sony stopped excepting new applications to the Dash’s marketplace.
Sony notes that existing applications will not be removed from the service, and current Dash owners will still be able to browse and download them as usual. In addition, private Dash applications (applications for personal use) will still be accepted until next year. But these are clearly stopgap measures; it looks like the writing is on the wall for the Dash.
What is the Dash?
It’s like…an Internet thing.
That’s about the best explanation I’ve managed to give people who see one of the Dash devices I have in my home. Sony’s official line is that the Dash is either a “Personal Internet Viewer” or an “Information Alarm Clock” (depending on which model you have). I suppose the second description is pretty fair, as the primary function of the Dash is that of an alarm clock. So if you took a standard alarm clock, and integrated a tablet into it, you would have a fair approximation of the Dash.
As you could imagine, this makes the Dash a rather awkward device. It’s not really an alarm clock, as you can install applications onto it, watch video, play music, and use it to browse the web. On the other hand, it’s not really a tablet either, as it has to stay plugged into the wall (at least, for the standard model).
For the technical answer, the Dash is in fact an embedded Linux device powered by the open source Chumby platform, though with the added clout that comes with Sony backing. This means that the Dash has some applications which the standard Chumby devices don’t have, such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Slacker.
In the beginning, the relationship between Sony and Chumby seemed to be a positive move for users. Dash owners got the full collection of Chumby applications, with the added bonus of big name exclusives like Netflix and Hulu. But in recent months, that relationship started to sour, and the dynamic radically changed. On the Chumby forums, a post from co-founder Duane Maxwell on January 8th advised a user that managing his Sony Dash would now need to be done separately from his Chumby account:
We’re made some recent changes in cooperation with Sony.
They are now entirely separate systems, with their own databases and accounts.
From now on, you’ll need to manage your dash using Sony’s site, not the chumby site.
When pushed, Duane clarified the situation in more detail:
The two systems are now completely separate.
When the Sony system was split out, what happened was that the entire widget catalog was cloned at that time, and all accounts that had a dash device registered were also cloned. Widget developers also had their accounts cloned – however, if they did not have a dash, the idea was that they’d have to go through some steps to enable those accounts , since they would need to accept Sony’s TOS. It appears that they have decided to drop support for developers, so that issue is probably moot.
So, uploading apps to the Chumby site will have no effect on dash devices.
Chumby is not in a position to tell you much more than that – as a Sony dash user, you are *their* customer, now more so than ever.
Looking through their forums, there are many topics asking where Chumby is going, and if the service is on it’s last legs. Users are citing the split with Sony as an example of the platform’s diminishing popularity and relevance, though the exact reasons behind the split are still unclear.
But with rumors of the Dash line being supplanted by upgraded devices running the monstrously popular Android, it’s not hard to see how Chumby could be falling to the wayside in the eyes of hardware OEMs. Why lock yourself into the limited Chumby ecosystem when you can just put Android on the device and let the users do whatever they want with it?
This is the question that people seem to be asking the most about the Dash on the Chumby and Sony forums. What happens to the Dash now?
For the time being, all the applications are still available, and just two days ago Sony pushed out a new firmware update for the hardware. So the Dash won’t be dying overnight. Existing users won’t have to throw away their devices, though anyone thinking of purchasing their first Dash may want to think it over long and hard.
Perhaps the oddest part of this story is that Sony just released updated Dash hardware in October, including a model which added an internal battery so the device could (finally) become untethered from the wall. Even for Sony, killing off support for a device only 6 months after you release it is pretty harsh. But sure enough, the entry for the new model Dash “HID-B70H” on Sony’s online store lists it’s availability as an ominous “No Longer Available”.
As a Dash owner, I am naturally sad to see the device end up like this. But the realist in me recognizes that both the Dash hardware and Chumby platform had some rather serious flaws. Personally, I would much rather have a Dash-like device running Android than what I have now.
So if killing off the existing Dash means hastening it’s Android-powered replacement, so be it.