[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Cybiko Sexy Chat

February 7th, 2011 by Benj Edwards

Cybiko Ad - 2000A Cybiko ad spoofing stereotypical Japanese zaniness.

The Cybiko was a bizarre handheld device of mixed lineage: I'd call it 1/3 game console and 2/3 handheld PC. It sought to be a PDA for kids, so it incorporated both gaming and organizer software. It also included a very novel feature at the time: wireless connectivity. Cybiko units could send each other text-based messages, share software, and play games via a built-in radio transmitter.

Owners could hook up the Cybiko to their PC to download new software from the Internet. Cybiko, Inc. encouraged homebrew development for the machine in either C or CyBasic (a BASIC variant), which helped maintain popular interest in Cybiko for a few years longer than it would have otherwise.

Despite those efforts, Cybiko was never particularly successful. The company tried again with the Cybiko Xtreme in 2001. No such luck there either.

A Handful of Drawbacks

I picked up one of the original "Classic" models on clearance back in the day. Its biggest drawbacks were the dreadfully sluggish speed of the software interface, the heavily-ghosting greyscale LCD screen, and the bizarre layout of the buttons and directional pad on the unit. Oddly, the Cybiko included a pull-out stylus to help you press its tiny QWERTY keyboard buttons. Also, I remember it being very tricky to hook the Cybiko to your PC to get new software.

I later picked up a revision 2 Cybiko Classic with the MP3 Player add-on at a Hamfest. I never did much with the gadgets, though. Cybikos included a rechargable battery — I remember seeing one leaking already a few years ago. So if you have one, take out the battery before it ruins your unit.

[ From Electronic Gaming Monthly, November 2000, p.87 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned or used a Cybiko? What did you think about it?



8 Responses to “[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Cybiko Sexy Chat”

  1. Ben Says:

    Even though they tried to make it seem Japanese, wasn't the parent company actually Russian?

  2. Benj Edwards Says:

    I'm not sure, Ben. I always got the impression that Cybiko, Inc. was American. I'm sure someone could look up the articles of incorporation for us or do a little digging and find out…Geoff, are you out there? :)

  3. extrarice Says:

    Seems that it's a Russian device. Interesting marketing choice for the US.

    http://cultureandcommunication.org/deadmedia/index.php/Cybiko

    Sounds like a pretty interesting device.

  4. Geoff V. Says:

    The origins of the Cybiko appear to be complicated. It was invented by David Yang, an Armenian physicist trained in the USSR, and developed by Russian engineers. Its function seemed to dictate its form, which may have been the Cybiko’s downfall. Prototype units featured higher quality screens and had a much longer communication range. However FCC regulations forced crippling changes to the design.

    The influence of a well known American company may have also spelled an early doom for the Cybiko; AOL bought a large minority share. American Online hoped to attract a new generation of consumers by adding “upgraded functionality.” AOL’s added “features” slowed the processor and decreased its battery life.

    The influence of the Cybiko may still be felt today. Modern abbreviations such as OMG, LOL, and others gained prominence on devices like these before cell phone became ubiquitous for all teenagers. Also, the devices could be slaved to a compute, giving other Cybikos within range a wi-fi hotspot. Pretty cool!

    Unsurprisingly, small but devoted groups of fans of this device are still creating new mods to push their Cybikos far beyond original design specs.

  5. Benj Edwards Says:

    I knew you guys wouldn't let me down. What an interesting history this thing has.

  6. Discord_Inc Says:

    I'm kinda curious just who this ad was for? It seems a little silly to do an ad spoofing Japanese wackiness for an America. I guess that must have been part of the problem though.

  7. Ralph Says:

    Cybikos used to be popular with hams because of the 900 Mhz frequency used.

    I've got 3 or 4 in my basement. Anyone willing to pay shipping gets them, click on my name and fill out the message form.

    They had developers in a suburb of Chicago, at one time.

    They were notable in being the first "open" consumer wireless device that anyone could write apps for, 8 years before the iPhone. They had a microphone so you could use a "walkie-talkie" application on the Cybiko eXtreme version. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybiko has more details

    The "hook-up" application idea was clearly inspired by the "lovegetty", a wireless device you could put a profile into, specifying the features of your desired hookup. There was a lovegetty-inspired app for the cybiko that would beep if your profile matched someone elses, but not enough cybikos were sold to make that a realistic application.

    Cybiko's website had a freely downloadable SDK, so you could develop apps for them without paying a fee.

    Cybiko used a rechargeagable battery, and in my opinion missed out by not using the AA battery form factor.

  8. Tomsoft Says:

    Cybiko was a russian device made by a bunch of talented russian programmers

    At in-fusio we bought at that time Cybiko as a game studio to develop our game.

    The failure of Cybiko device seems to be (from the creator) that it was positionned as a toy and not as a video game. The toy market is a very short time frame market and change at least every year for christmas, while video game market is a little (for the device) a little bit longer

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