In the beginning there was the CrunchPad--a browser-in-a-tablet device proposed by TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington in July 2008, well before the dawn of the iPad era.
Arrington partnered with a company called Fusion Garage to turn his brainchild into a shipping product. But shortly before it was supposed to hit the market in late 2009, according to Arrington, Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan decided to proceed with the project without Arrington's involvement.
Fusion Garage renamed the tablet the JooJoo. After several delays, it started selling it on its own for $499 at the same time the iPad went on sale. By November 2010, the JooJoo had died.
Fusion Garage talked about a JooJoo 2, but when the company resurfaced in August of this year (after briefly masquerading as a startup called TabCo), it announced an Android-based tablet called the Grid 10, along with an Android phone named the Grid 4. And it said that it would give free Grid 10s to JooJoo owners.
At the time, I met with Rathakrishnan and was confused by his pitch (he kept saying the tablet didn't run Android even though it did, albeit in heavily-modifed form) and unimpressed by the demo (everything I tried to do caused the Grid 10 to crash).
And now Nilay Patel of the Verge is reporting that Fusion Garage is...missing. Its Web site is down and its PR company says that it hasn't heard from it in weeks. Amazon, which had been taking preorders, says the Grid 10 is "currently unavailable." The last post on the company's blog appeared last October, explaining why reviews by the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg and others were lousy.
There is at least one sign of life: Fusion Garage has been tweeting as recently as last week.
Being less than communicative isn't proof that a company (or at least its product line) is gone forever. And we're talking Fusion Garage here, so erratic behavior is perfectly normal. But at the very least, the Fusion Garage story seems to be in the midst of yet another twist.
Judging from the demo I saw, nobody should be freaked out over the possibility that the Grid 10 and Grid 4 might be toast. Their interface departed radically from standard Android, but in a direction that was different and weird rather than better. Even setting aside Fusion Garage's checkered history--which appears to be getting more checkered even as we speak--I wouldn't recommend its products.
Assuming that the current site outage is a sign that the Grid line is already in trouble, it's hard to imagine the company staging yet another comeback. From a safe distance, watching Fusion Garage at work has been perversely fascinating--but if its saga just ended, it would be neither surprising nor troubling.