Ambient's Umbrella Forecasts as It Protects

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The long-awaited Ambient Umbrella is almost here. It is a bit offbeat, using lights in its handle to signal the chances of rain, but it's a taste of more mainstream products coming from Ambient Devices. The start-up is maybe best known for its Orb—and now is ready with a wave of what the company calls "zero-click" devices designed to take the pain from getting info from the Internet.

Ambient transmits the data that people want everyday, from stocks to weather to sports, to its gadgets via a network of 8,000 wireless towers, on which it rents time. They're meant to be simple, no-futz products, usually dedicated to one purpose. The round Orb used color changes, for example, to signal changes in the stock market, weather, or other data. A Weather Wizard that has been out on the market for a few years and sold at Brookstone gives a five-day forecast from AccuWeather. The Market Maven tracks the stock market, and others coming include a device for keeping up with a favorite football or baseball team and a clock that will indicate booked times from your Google calendar—all transmitted wirelessly with minimal hassle.

The closest analogy I can think of is Microsoft SPOT, the subscription service from Microsoft that so far has flopped. Ambient has taken a different approach, offering basic info on the devices free, while maybe charging for premium upgrades. Both Ambient and Microsoft hope to get their tech embedded in other devices, whether in the car or refrigerator (LG included Ambient gear in one of its Internet-powered refrigerator doors).

The umbrella is a prime example of injecting the idea into a product, one that Ambient CEO David Rose says is an example of "literal mapping"— that is, having the information embedded in the device to which it applies. It's also a substantial umbrella, by the way, with a heavy-duty, dual-canopy "gust buster" design. It had better be, at the $125 asking price (it's available next month at retailers).