CrunchPad canceled: Arrington's pet project now vaporware

The CrunchPad is dead, Michael Arrington declares. But would it have succeeded? And will Apple have a better go of it?

Newscom photo illustration/Andrew Heining
Vaporware: The CrunchPad met its end on Monday, victim to greed and betrayal, according to TechCrunch's Michael Arrington.

It's the trash compactor for the CrunchPad.

In a post that is as direct and unfiltered as the world has come to expect from him, firebrand TechCrunch founder and editor Michael Arrington on Monday laid out the undoing of his company's highly hyped (and eagerly anticipated) bare-bones tablet computer, the CrunchPad.

It had a great concept (with a name to match), plenty of buzz, and a solid source of funding ("blue-chip angel and venture capitalist investors" as Arrington described it in its obituary). But according to Arrington, the CrunchPad fell victim to greed, betrayal, and straight-up theft of intellectual property.

Arrington quotes emails from the main CrunchPad partner, Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan, and says flatly that Crunch Gear had been pushed aside. Writes Arrington:

We were being notified that we were no longer involved with the project. Our project. Chandra said that based on pressure from his shareholders he had decided to move forward and sell the device directly through Fusion Garage, without our involvement.
Err, what? This is the equivalent of Foxconn, who build the iPhone, notifiying Apple a couple of days before launch that they’d be moving ahead and selling the iPhone directly without any involvement from Apple.

The device, which Arrington reveals was meant to have been unveiled for pre-orders on November 20, was to have been a simple, low-cost ("$300ish" was the target) tablet for browsing the Web. "I just wanted a tablet computer that I could use to consume the Internet while sitting on a couch," he writes.

Details of the device were confirmed in the post as well. The CrunchPad was to have been based around a 12-inch capacitive touch-screen, would include an Intel Atom processor – common in netbooks – and was to see ramped-up production in early 2010.

Instead, Arrington has opened the door for lawsuits against FusionGarage, Rathakrishnan, and the company's shareholders, who so far have yet to respond to media calls for comment.

Was it really viable?

Since the CrunchPad rumors first surfaced, the tech world has questioned the notion of such a device – would the public be keen on Arrington's vision of a touch-screen tablet that just does Web browsing? The most successful devices these days pack many features into ever-more-minuscule packages – could a one-trick-pony like the CrunchPad catch on?

And what about price?

"$300ish" is short of the $399 at which Amazon's Kindle originally debuted, and when it released, the reading device was viewed as a niche product. It seems hard to believe that a lower-volume CrunchPad (Arrington said 1,000 units was the initial run) would've seen success at above $300, and even harder to believe that prices could drop early (or gracefully – hell hath no fury like an early adopter scorned) enough to allow it to succeed.

Whatever the case, the CrunchPad's story – in Arrington's telling, at least – is a sad one. From excited entrepreneurial innovation and cross-industry partnerships, to nothing but a memory and the promise of legal action.

A boon to Apple?

If anything, news of the CrunchPad's demise clears the waters for a rumored Apple tablet. But, should Apple be experiencing the same struggle to keep prices low, one can't help but wonder if Steve Jobs's "reality distortion field" will be strong enough to part would-be buyers from their hard-earned post-holiday cash.


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