What was supposed to be a $200 Web tablet backed by an influential blogger is now a $500 device from a previously unknown startup.
The Joo Joo, by Fusion Garage, was previously the pet project of TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, and known as the CrunchPad. It’s a 12.1-inch tablet with a capacitive touch screen and virtual keyboard, plus a 4 GB solid state drive and accelerometer. Powering up in nine seconds, the Joo Joo runs a Unix Web-based OS and is capable only of browsing the Web (including HD video), with no apps, windows or menus. It has Wi-Fi, but no 3G or other mobile broadband, and it will cost $500. That’s more than twice the device’s initial intended price, and enough for several tech watchers to declare it dead on arrival, scheduled for December 11.
In July 2008, Arrington declared that he’d be building a “dead simple Web tablet for $200.” For a while, things seemed to be moving along at a steady clip, with a company formed during the summer to oversee the CrunchPad’s manufacture. But things took a turn for the worse when an article in the Straits Times said the CrunchPad’s estimated price would be $400. Then, there were rumors that high prices had derailed the project. Arrington stayed mostly silent, only saying that the CrunchPad was moving along and would be priced in the high $200’s.
Last week, however, Arrington said Fusion Garage would be splitting off and selling the tablet on its own. He’s threatened to sue, claiming TechCrunch jointly owns the device’s intellectual property. In a press conference today, Fusion Garage founder Chandrasekar “Chandra” Rathakrishnan revealed his side of the story, alleging that “TechCrunch didn’t contribute one line of code” and that no contracts over intellectual property were ever signed.
The drama has helped to give this device lots of publicity in the tech world, but skepticism is in the air. In general, the argument for tablets is that they fill the sofa-browsing hole between smartphones and netbooks, but that argument only holds water if the cost isn’t significantly higher than either of those two products. At $500, the Joo Joo is a niche product for tech enthusiasts, and even they might want to wait and see if Apple releases a more capable tablet.