crunchpad concept

For much of the past year, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington has been working with a small group on a pet project called the CrunchPad. It was designed to be a 12 inch tablet style device for surfing the web from a couch. While Arrington always said the device was supposed to be a web-only device with little local storage, and the browser as the most important element, as the project started to come together it started to look more and more like a netbook. The latest prototypes had Intel Atom processors and were probably going to be ripe with opportunities for hackers looking to install alternative operating systems.

But as far as I was concerned, there were always a few major flaws in the concept. First, the idea of a touch-only device for interacting with the web feels very 2004 to me. The web has come to be an interactive medium, and text input is crucial for sending email, writing blog comments, updating social networking sites, and performing other actions. While touchscreen phones like the iPhone have shown that people can use an on-screen keyboard to perform these actions, I have yet to meet a person that can type 100 words per minute with their thumbs.

Second, the CrunchPad was expected to sell for around $300. With netbook prices falling, you can pick up a full fledged mini-laptop with a keyboard, a larger hard drive, and well… everything else you would expect from a computer.

So I wasn’t at all surprised to read today that the CrunchPad project is, for all intents and purposes, dead. I was a bit surprised to find out why. It had nothing to do with the price, demand for the product, or any other external force. Rather, the company that Arrington had partnered with to produce the device got into a dispute with Arrington. While only one side of the story is available at the moment, Arrington basically says that they tried to kick him out of the project altogether and sell it under a different name.

This doesn’t exactly spell the end of the internet tablet concept. Apple is expected to launch a tablet style device sometime next year, although all we have to go on is rumor and speculation at the moment. Microsoft is also expected to introduce a tablet-style device based on a journal or diary-like paradigm. I’ll be curious to see how well either does. Both are positioned as new types of computing devices.

They aren’t designed to replace a desktop, laptop, or cellphone. I’m not convinced that people are clamoring for yet another alternative way to connect with the internet, but I am convinced that if you hand somebody something that looks more like a computer than a consumer electronics device (such as a cellphone), they’ll expect it to act like a computer with a full desktop operating system. So I think the success of these upcoming tablets will rely greatly on the ability of companies to distinguish them from existing computers and present usage scenerios that make sense for users.

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29 replies on “The CrunchPad tablet is dead, is anybody surprised?”

  1. Design always seemed wrong anway. It used a relatively power-hungry Atom x86 chip when it should have been some kind of ARM SoC. Way too expensive given its limitations when you could get a full-capability netbook computer for the same or less $$. It was only a dumb web browser device I think, when it should have sported a real OS like Android for running other apps and plenty of flash storage. Basically it should be like an Android phone on steroids, just like people suspect an Apple tablet will be like an iPhone on steroids.

  2. I have no doubt a device like a CrunchPad will be made. It just won’t be made by a start-up with no other products. The thing needed three things

    – It needed to be extremely inexpensive for what you got…there was no Apple Tax cred coming with this so it has to come out cheap.

    – OS is the key. When a pad comes out it won’t be the hardware that will really shock people, its will be how easy it is too use because the OS is polished to the point where everything the machine does feels like it doing it fast and super responsively to user in put.

    Input using finger-tip writing needs to be REALLY good. I can browse with limited typing just fine, as long as when I start ‘writing words’ without the device pausing to figure that out. Most web browsing, Face booking, and e-mail isn’t huge tomes of text…it just that a keyboards is FAST. Make finger writing fast and there is not a problem with not having a keyboard.

    – Human engineering is not just about making it cool! The damn thing has to be easy to hold (lite & small), it has to do what you want (web browsing/apps…along with EVERYTHING a good mp3 and PDA does), and when you pick it up the interface should be showing you what you want to see.

  3. Something like this will hit the market. Probably an ARM based, Chrome OS, limited storage device. How cool would it be if it had a Pixel Qi screen? It will not be a netbook/laptop replacement. I can see it as a media device/ light web surfing/e-reader.

  4. Everybody think they can outsmart Apple. “How hard can it be to design hardware”, they think? Technology is actually the easiests part.

    This also tells you why Apple plays hardball with partners — otherwise, they would get screwed at every turn.

  5. what kind of thumbs must you have to type on a 12-inch touchscreen?

    Recheck your 12-inch reference. Its horribly miscalibrated

    1. 12 / 2 = 6
      7″ screen requires thumb typing
      So maybe you were talking about the WHOLE screen used for typing

  6. People have been dreaming about a device like this for years. Arrington’s idea wasn’t original. But, he may have been one of the few to, perhaps foolishly, challenge both the lack of consumer demand and improbable economies of scale that could never compete with much larger Asian manufacturers. Success was always, in my opinion, unlikely (and it’s one I’ve shared with friends and colleagues since learning about his project).

    If and when Apple produces a larger-than-iPhone-format tablet-like device it will probably serve first and foremost as an entertainment consumption device (perhaps with video sharing with AppleTV) with content creation being supported lightly with on-screen keyboards but principally using Bluetooth accessories. The notion that a tablet sans keyboard will be a better general purpose computing device is unlikely. In the case of Arrington’s project, it’s rare that highly technical products with innovative user interfaces get developed with non-technical leadership and outrageously small amounts of time.

    I can’t fault Arrington’s passion, or that of the people that worked on the project. I just never thought they could compete with the likes of, well, every single large electronics manufacturing company on the planet. David-vs-Goliath stories are mostly just stories.

  7. People really believe Michael Arrington intended to produce an actual product? The Crunchpad looked like more of his endless self-promotion to me. I suspect it was intended to be vaporware.

  8. I think the whole point of the tablet idea is that it’s to fill a specific niche. How big that niche is, time will tell. A lightweight device with a large screen for primarily surfing the web would be a welcome device for me to fill the gap between my laptop and mobile device.

    1. Yes, well said, that is exactly the point. It is a niche device designed for a specific need. Just because the hardware specs sound “similar” to a netbook it does not mean that this will compete directly with them, they are for two different things.

      I was looking for exactly this device around a year ago. I wanted a device with a large screen for reading ebooks and watching movies but without the baggage of a keyboard but no such device exists. Thus, this would have been perfect for me.

    1. You’re comment is the first one to make sense. No need for a device that cost more than you average netbook with less specs. As far as reading the news in the morning how about paying 50 cent for a newspaper.

  9. I wonder if pressure wasn`t applied by that guy in jeans and black neckless sweater?

  10. I’m eagerly awaiting a tablet device, which i can use to read the news while having breakfast, or while sitting on a couch.Have you not heard of bluetooth? there really is no reason to attach the keyboard to the screen. Just use a remote one if you need to type a lot.

  11. The little fish get eaten by the big fish; or
    when a shark asks a little fish out for lunch…
    Welcome to the real world of business Mr. Arrington.

    Is it “New 2010” or “New 2004”?
    That is Marketing vs. Sales.
    Marketing: Make people think it is “New 2010” and they need to buy it.
    Sales: Make people think it is an improved “New 2004” and they need to buy it.

    Right now it sounds like we will never know which “spin” CrunchPad, Inc.
    was going to put on the “glossies” for this device.

  12. >>>I have yet to meet a person that can type 100 words per minute with their thumbs.

    WTF? I can’t even type 100 wpm with my fingers on a real keyboard. You must get out and check out the kids who zoooom text-typing on their Sidekicks with their thumbs. A capacitive tablet screen is good enough for web interaction: URLs (which become bookmarks) and social media updates. Only a total maniac like me might try to create an entire blog post that way.

  13. I’m actually disappointed. As I think about my needs, I had come to the conclusion a 12″ tablet with a way to add a keyboard, mouse, monitor externally, support for Windows 7 (to use live Mesh easily) would be the way to go. If the CrunchPad’s battery would hold up for 6-8 hours it sounds like what I was looking for.

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