My new toy: Nabaztag (or how to make something useful by providing an API)

I got a Nabaztag last week. It’s an wifi enabled ambient device for the home that can provide information in the form of audio, speech, or coloured lights for news updates and alerts that it downloads from the internet. I think the concept is great: a device that keeps me up-to-date with weather, traffic, email or twitter without me having to boot up my computer. The technology is quite sophisticated: the initial setup is done by holding a button for 5seconds to turn the device into a wireless access point, then connect to the access point from a computer and browse to its config pages (it doesn’t have an ethernet port). From here you configure the network settings for your wireless network and then restart it and it connects to your network and the lights glow green to indicate that it has got an internet connection. All configuration is then done from the website.


After playing around with my Nabaztag over the weekend my initial impressions are that it has a few flaws:
- The form factor. It’s supposed to look like a rabbit, which makes it look like a kids toy and not something you want to sit on the coffee table in your living room.
-The interface. The main way that the device communicates its updates is through either text-to-speech or mp3 clips. It has some lights on the front that can be configured to glow different colours to indicate different statuses, but this is quite limited. This means that every update interrupts whatever you happen to be doing at the time. I want it to be a device that sits in the corner of the room so that I can glance at it to get very high level updates and then pick it up and interact with it to get more detail. Ambient. I don’t want it to interrupt the meal I’m eating or the film I’m watching or the conversation I’m having.

Well, so far, so bad but I haven’t got to the best part: it has an API so it’s hackable! It has a very simple REST-like API that lets you send it to sleep, wake it up, change the light colour, send it some text for it read aloud or move the position of the ears (yes, really!). This certainly makes it a more useful device for me and I applaud the manufacturers, Violet, for making the device so open. I’ve started to play around with a Netvibves UWA widget for it which I’ll post here when it does something useful (there are already several 3rd party widgets available).

Nabaztag Widget

I’m still undecided whether this will be a useful device for me or whether it will be heading for eBay. I’m still really keen on the Chumby (or will be, when they start shipping to the UK) which I don’t expect to suffer from some of the flaws of the Nabaztag that I’ve described here. If I can take it out of its rabbit body and put it in something a bit more attractive and use the API to create something that I’ll use regularly then it could be a winner.

One Comment to “My new toy: Nabaztag (or how to make something useful by providing an API)”

  1. [...] sure no cash had changed hands for it to appear on the show. People who know me or have read my thoughts on this before will know that I think there’s a lot of potential for an “ambient” [...]

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