|Platform: Stand-alone or Windows 95/98/2000
Street Price: same
|Cred Rating:||Special Award: Object Value|
Summer is here, and the kids are out of school. How can you occupy their time so they don't tear up the house? Super Soakers are great, but chances are good that they'll bring 'em in the house and super-soak the sofa. A better idea is to keep them safe inside your logic-gated community by getting them the latest gadget for techno-lusty teenagers: the Cybiko. Problem is, if you're a real geek, you may not want to turn it over to them!
The Cybiko is a handheld organizer and game machine designed for teenagers. The twist is that it has a radio transmitter that can communicate with other Cybikos within a 300 feet range outside (or 150 feet through walls). When you turn the unit on, the Cybiko joins the wireless Cybiko network and allows instant messaging and chat between up to 99 units in pre-arranged chat rooms organized by subject. Messages are inputed through the tiny Qwerty keyboard (too tiny for most adult hands) and displayed on the small but functional non-backlit grayscale LCD screen. These chat rooms can be for public conversations, or for private ones arranged just between friends through message filtering, though there is no setting up of new chat rooms.
Another function of the Cybiko network is a friend-finder feature. Basically, it's designed for stirring the hearts of young teens, who will presumably use it to find potential dates. It works like this: the user sets up a "Me" profile (which can be changed at any time) and then sets up a "You" profile for the kind of person they want to meet. This can include height and weight preferences (lets face it, teens are shallow...adults too) and hobby categories like sports and chess. It can also include secret words, so that special clubs can be formed. These fields are limited to eight characters, which it turns out is just long enough for "Brittany" but not quite long enough for "StreetTech". The "Me" profile includes the same information, as well as the opportunity to put in a picture (grayscale) and a personal "home page" for describing yourself. When the Cybiko comes within range of another that matches your profile, the Cybiko will sound an alarm or vibrate, indicating that love is in the air.
The operating system of Cybiko is proprietary (CYOS 1), but the company has provided development tools for programmers. It is possible to develop and download 3rd party apps and games. These applications can even be "beamed" to another Cybiko, which is handy if you want to play head-to-head games like Chess, CyBattle (Battleship), or the Doom-like Labyrinth. Dozens of games and applications are available from the Cybiko website for free downloading. The Cybiko also has a basic address book, memo pad, to-do list, and an email program that sends and receives email when the Cybiko is synced to a PC.
While the Cybiko is obviously marketed to teens, it has some features that encourage hacking. First, the OS is fairly easy to write for, with a compiler available from Cybiko. Second, the inclusion of wireless messaging makes this a fun toy for adults too. I can already envision the offices of software companies awash in radio waves as programmers flame each other over the Cybiko network.
Yet another cool feature is the possibility of creating a portal to the Internet with a Cybiko; hook one up to the Net through a PC running special software, and other Cybikos nearby have a direct connection to the Net for email, and probably WAP browsing in the near future.
Add to these features a Type-2 CompactFlash (CF) slot, and you have a machine just begging to be hacked. Though no drivers are available yet, this slot could hold modems, memory expansion, or any number of other CF devices. An MP3 player is already in the works.
There are some shortcomings. The Cybiko organizer programs are simplistic and not designed for adult users. The cramped keyboard is an awkward way to input text, which is not made up for by the inclusion of a little stylus to poke them with. The whole operating system, while easy to use, is slow. This is because the Cybiko uses a measly 10MHz processor. There is another Hitatchi processor that runs at 20MHz that is probably compatible, but upgrade would require a bit of soldering. The memory is expandable to 8 megs, but starts at only 512k, meaning that loading new apps requires taking out some old ones.
As a device for teens, the Cybiko rocks. If it had a color screen, it'd be a GameBoy killer. It does everything that you could possibly want and more from a device that only costs US$130. By aiming at the teen market, and making the OS easy to write for, the Cybiko is taking advantage of the strengths and interests of teens. My guess is that, come next fall, it'll be a runaway hit that irks parents and teachers almost as much as Pokemon or Tamagochi.
For adults, I'll say this; If the Cybiko ran the Palm OS, it might prove to be a Palm killer (or at least a maimer). My prediction is that this device will develop a deep geek cult following, and that programmers and hardware hackers will find a way to improve upon it. For now, it's probably not going to replace the Palm or end up in the vest pockets of many adults. It does however give an interesting insight into the world of wireless messaging that is coming through the adoption of Bluetooth. In fact, I think Cybiko would do well to port their wireless networking software to the Palm, so that when Palm users get Bluetooth, they too will be able to find other people just dying to talk about "Brittany".
- Nate Heasley [6/19/00]
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