CrunchPad reborn as JooJoo

Chandra Rathakrishnan, the chief executive of former TechCrunch partner Fusion Garage, reveals plans to proceed with release of new Web-browsing tablet.

Fusion Garage's Chandra Rathakrishnan shows off the JooJoo in a videoconference. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Monday morning, former TechCrunch partner Fusion Garage revealed details of its plans to release its Linux-based Web browsing tablet.

Known as the CrunchPad until TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington announced on his blog that Fusion Garage had removed his company from involvement the product, it was expected to be a touch-sensitive slate computer designed for browsing the Web. It was said to have no local storage aside from what was necessary to load and run the operating system. Arrington said he was hoping to bring the product to market for under $300, but did not expect it to be a big seller.

More recently, Arrington said litigation over the breakup was imminent.

Fusion Garage has been quiet about the public but one-sided airing of the two companies' disagreements until now.

In a Web videocast Monday, Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan laid out his position on the drama, and revealed plans for the release of the product.

Tasty hardware specs

Rathakrishnan said the product, now named JooJoo, will soon be available for preorder for $499, well above the sub-$300 price point that Arrington hoped to deliver the product at. Shipping will start in 8 to 10 weeks.

Regarding the high price, the Fusion Garage CEO said that "nothing worthwhile can be delivered," at the hoped-for $300 price, and pointed to other products, like the Kindle DX and the iPhone, as examples of products with lesser screens that cost more.

The JooJoo will have a 12.1-inch capacitive touch screen, limited local storage for caching data, Wi-Fi but no cellular connectivity, and will boot directly to the browser in nine seconds, Rathakrishnan said. It is said to have five hours of battery life and weigh under 2.5 pounds. It has no physical buttons other than the power switch, and looks quite sleek in black, its only color option. The operating system/browser hybrid, written by Fusion Garage, will be capable of displaying full HD video on the device.

Regarding the potentially competitive Chrome OS, Rathakrishnan said that while it's a "similar vision," the Netbook form factor (which Chrome OS is written for) is not ideal for the use cases he envisions. Furthermore, Chrome OS is a year from release; JooJoo is entering production now.

Ugly legal posturing

Rathakrishnan opened his press conference by saying that "The death of the product has been greatly exaggerated." He then spent several minutes refuting Arrington's claims of ownership over the intellectual property inside the JooJoo device.

"I'm not the person I've been portrayed as in the blogosphere," Rathakrishnan said in defense of himself, before attacking Arrington. "Anybody can write blog posts," he said. "There are dreamers and there are doers."

Rathakrishnan said that he and Arrington had agreed on a vision of the product early on, and that Arrington had said he would line up funding and other help to bring the product to market. The ultimate goal was for a TechCrunch subsidiary company, CrunchPad, to buy Fusion Garage. But the TechCrunch money never materialized, and Fusion Garage raised money on its own, built the product independently, and lined up manufacturing for the product.

It's "ludicrous," Rathakrishnan said, to think that TechCrunch owns any intellectual property in the JooJoo. Rathakrishnan said that there were never any legal agreements signed to that effect.

"We took all the risk and did all the work. Michael Arrington sat back," Rathakrishnan said.

Opinions differ on Rathakrishnan's position, of course. Arrington has laid out a compelling case of betrayal in his blog posts on the topic, and TechCrunch readers have, to date, supported Arrington's position that he is the injured party.

Ultimately, it's highly unlikely that the rancor between TechCrunch and Fusion Garage will make much difference in the success or failure of the product. Neither TechCrunch nor JooJoo is a popular consumer brand, and the market for this category of product is untested. What is more likely to trouble the product's success is that it's priced out of reach of most consumers, and functionally doesn't offer much more than a $300 Netbook, although arguably it performs many of the same functions with a lot more style.

We're getting a hands-on look at the JooJoo later Monday and will report on that in a separate post.

 

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