After raising just shy of $1 million on Kickstarter in 2021, the Tidbyt has arrived — and it’s actually a useful, hackable, surprisingly pleasant gadget that can help fill a niche we didn’t really realize needed filling.
The concept is simple: Tidbyt is a 64×32 screen of bright LEDs in an understated case made of walnut hardwood. It’s basic, but it works best that way. The device is controlled by an easy-to-use app that allows you to push simplified information onto it with a rotating schedule. The options range from the obvious — sports scores, personalized messages, a stock ticker, public transit schedules, your Google Calendar or the day’s weather — to more niche options like your Twitter follower count or a flowing green Matrix code screen (which actually does look very cool).
Rohan Singh, the co-founder of Tidbyt, explained to Paste Magazine the concept for the device was born from the desire to find a simple way to keep track of transit schedules for his morning commute. From there, the idea of making that info-delivery look cool was born.
“Originally, this all came from a need to see subway train times in the mornings,” Singh said. “The problem with using an app on my smartphone was that it’s so easy to then also get stuck doom-scrolling Twitter for 30 minutes. What we found after building the first prototype was that there’s a whole lot of other information that is really handy to have on display.”
From there, the idea of making that info-delivery look cool was born. The Tidbyt shines in its ability to condense information with easy-to-follow tools and wrap it all in a lo-fi, eye-catching package.
Having used the Tidbyt for a while, it really is an elegant device when it comes to delivering slices of information in a simple, digestible way. The weather displays are bright and clean, as are the sports score lines, and the subway transit feeds look like… well, subway schedule tickers. Once you get used to having it around the room, be it an office, living room or entryway hallway, it really can help replace a more distracting dive into your smartphone when all you want is glance for a quick update.
The apps themselves are developed by Tidbyt as well as user-created, and there’s already a burgeoning group of users creating new skills on a regular basis. Singh said the plan is for that app library to continue to grow with both in-house designs and user contributions, and the ease of programming was done in an effort to try and make the Tidbyt as useful as possible.
“We recently opened up the community side of it, enabling external developers to publish their apps and make them available to other Tidbyt users,” he said. “Since then we’ve seen so many new and cool things come out of the community, and for the past few weeks most of our engineering efforts have really been focused on improving the development experience.”
The device itself is easy to hack and program if you know the basics, meaning users are free to create their own apps to share widely, or code extremely specific apps for personal use. It’s still early, but customers are already finding use cases the designers themselves never could’ve imagined.
“We have a number of users who run weather stations on their roofs, and use Tidbyt to visualize the data downstairs,” he said. “Some folks are using their Tidbyts as light sources for photography (the device can get really bright if you want it to). Just this morning I saw someone was working on a ‘fish facts’ app. There’s no way we’d ever have come up with some of this stuff ourselves.”
Though the hackability means the sky’s technically the limit as the Tidbyt user base continues to grow and evolve, it’s important to note the offerings at this point are still in the fairly early stages — meaning you’ll find a lot of basics, but you won’t find everything you’re looking for in the app library, at least not yet. One example: at the time of this review, the sports score app only allows you to follow scores for certain sports leagues, and the transit apps are still a bit limited (though the amount of available cities is growing). But there are still plenty of useful (and fun) apps available right now — but getting in now means buying into the potential of what Tidbyt can be, and accepting the limitations of what it is right now.
If you have a direct need for the Tidbyt (i.e. transit or weather for your commute, tracking the growth of your YouTube account, etc.), or the coding skills to bring your own very niche data dream to life, it’s even more useful. The unit has an MSRP of $199, so getting in on the ground floor of this nifty vision of a streamlined data future isn’t exactly cheap. But if you’re looking for a unique gadget that is an eye-catching piece of decorative tech, it more than checks the box.
Tidbyt is currently shipping units to Kickstarter backers and those who pre-ordered, and new buyers can expect to receive their Tidbyt by June.