Just two weeks away from launch where it would be shown running Windows 7 and Google Chrome OS, the long-awaited and highly anticipated CrunchPad goes belly-up...
Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch and the driving force behind the innovative and ambitious CrunchPad touchscreen Web tablet, has axed the project just two weeks ahead of its public debut.
The shock decision followed an attempt by Fusion Garage, the company which has been building the US$300 tablet, to take over the project, assume rights to the CrunchPad brand, sell the device and downgrade Arrington’s role to that of a “visionary/evangelist/marketing head”.
In a post on his own TechCrunch blog
, Arrington details how after almost one and a half years of development, the much-vaunted CrunchPad was apparently derailed at the last minute “over nothing more than greed, jealousy and miscommunication.”
“It was so close I could taste it” Arrington writes of his plan to debut the CrunchPad at a TechCrunch event on November 20th, with demo machines running Google Chrome OS and Windows 7 “to show people that you could hack this thing to run just about anything you want.”
The CrunchPad wasn’t quite ready for prime time – “it went hours without crashing”, writes Arrington, who also observes that the the screen had proved particularly troublesome – “capacitive touch at 12 inches isn’t trivial.”
But “the device was stable enough for a demo. We could even let people play with the device themselves – the user interface was intuitive enough that people ‘got it’ without any instructions.” Large-scale production of the tablet was slated to begin in early 2010.
In addition to its role as a Web tablet, the CrunchPad also doubled as a music and video player
for media stored on the SSD drive or memory card
Without naming names, Arrington also said “a major multi-billion dollar retail partner has been patiently working with us for months, giving advice on manufacturing partners and offering to sell the CrunchPad at a zero margin to help us succeed in the early days.”
Intel, which supplied the Atom CPU inside the CrunchPad, has “assisted repeatedly with engineering and partner advice, and gave us pricing that was ridiculously generous given our projected first year sales volumes.”
So what went wrong? The short version, says Arrington, is that Fusion Garage decided to take over the entire project, from the intellectual property behind the device to the CrunchPad brand and trademark itself, and then build and sell the devices themselves.
Arrington describes this as “the equivalent of Foxconn, who build the iPhone, notifying Apple a couple of days before launch that they’d be moving ahead and selling the iPhone directly without any involvement from Apple.”
It’s a sad ending to this exciting project, although there’s no reason the hardware and software could not be replicated by another firm with deep pockets and perhaps a more trustworthy partner.
And as a footnote, there’s certain to be red faces at Popular Mechanics
magazine, which last month controversially trumpeted the CrunchPad – which was not yet released and will now never see the light of day – as ‘Product of the Year’ for 2009.