This week the CrunchPad died. Writers all over the Internet sank their teeth into the meaty deliciousness of the fiasco. But it occurred to us that behind the gadgety sadness of the story, there’re some very positive things to learn.
Why did the CrunchPad die? Well, that’s going to remain a mystery for a little while, as we only have one side of the argument to examine–TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington’s. And since Arrington’s a famously difficult character and biased by his own enthusiasm for his product, we can but wonder that behind his accusations of attempts of IP theft by partner company Fusion Garage lies a much more fiery story. At least until Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan tells his side of the story and demos the prototype for reporters in San Francisco on Monday.
Forget the pissing match, though. CrunchPad may never see the light of day as a real product (and yes, I know one should never say never), but there’re a bunch of very positive facts behind the device.
1. It’s technologically possible, for a very affordable fee
In very short order, Arrington’s team pulled together the big touchscreen tech, processor, ancillary electronics, rechargeable batteries and software to make a super-slim, powerful and fun-to-use basic Tablet PC. It worked, it was well-designed with almost Jonathan Ive-levels of minimalism, and those that tested prototypes apparently liked it plenty. In the death-knell post itself, Arrington noted that the team was close to running Google Chrome and Windows 7 on the CrunchPad, meaning it probably shouldn’t be considered a basic Tablet PC at all. And remember that this successful (well, 95% successful) team had diverse experience, enthusiasm and a charismatic leader–but it was very, very small.
The good news from this is that a CrunchPad-like device is certainly achievable by anyone committed enough, and if a manufacturing giant turned its efforts in this direction it could probably achieve an even more capable machine.
2. The public wanted the CrunchPad
Having the capability to make the CrunchPad would’ve been a pointless thing had no-one wanted to buy one. But considering the media excitement and public enthusiasm expressed at TechCrunch and elsewhere, there was definitely a public desire for the device.
You may even say there was a definite thirst for it. I would certainly have considered buying one for idle in-bed Web surfing before the work day started for real, or for in-flight movie-viewing–assuming it was powerful enough for this task.
The upshot is that the public seems to actively want a slim, super-sized iPhone-like device. And should someone else choose to make a gimo like this, it’ll likely sell well. And possibly sell like hot cakes.
3. Industry wanted the CrunchPad
Perhaps the most surprising information revealed at the end of the CrunchPad affair was quite how enthusiastically the hardware manufacturing and sales industry itself embraced the ideas. Arrington speaks of a “major multi-billion dollar retail partner” that was ready to “sell the CrunchPad at zero margin to help us succeed in the early days.” There were sponsors in the wings ready to help sell the gizmo “near our $300ish cost.” Investors were champing at the bit, waiting merely for the final prototype approval before pouring in cash to make the venture work.
And, most fascinating of all, Intel was on-board. It assisted with engineering help during the design phase and was ready to offer Arrington’s team a per-chip price for Atom CPUs that was “ridiculously generous” given the projections for first-year sales.
What we can learn from this is that many industry insiders looked at the future of the CrunchPad–which would’ve been an early format-defining machine, much like the Kindle for e-readers, perhaps–and saw that it was bright. So bright, they were willing to take significant risks in order to get the project off the ground.
Draw these three conclusions together, and what have you got? Tacit confirmation from multiple angles that slim tablet- or slate-format touchscreen PCs will soon be rolling off someone’s production lines, for a netbook-like price. Dare I say iTablet? Yes, I dare.