Tech startup Fusion Garage announced that it will debut the JooJoo, a tablet PC with a 12.1-inch touch screen, on Dec. 11 at a price point of $499. Whether or not the device, announced by Fusion Garage CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan during a Web conference on Dec. 7, actually meets that launch date, it will almost certainly be embroiled in legal disputes for some time to come.
That's because Michael Arrington, founder of popular technology blog TechCrunch, plans on suing Fusion Garage over the JooJoo, which he insists started life as the CrunchPad, a low-cost tablet primarily meant to surf the Web. In a Nov. 30 blog posting on the site, Arrington said that he planned to debut the CrunchPad onstage at the Real-Time Crunchup event on Nov. 20.
According to Arrington, the tablet was the furthest thing from vaporware. "The device was stable enough for a demo. It went hours without crashing," he wrote. "We could even let people play with the device themselves-the user interface was intuitive enough that people -got it' without any instructions."
In addition to the ultra-thin form factor, the device included a single on-off switch, a built-in video camera, low-end speakers, a microphone, integrated Wi-Fi and a 4GB solid-state hard drive.
But according to Arrington, the whole 1.5-year project came to an abrupt end-at least for TechCrunch.
On Nov. 17, Arrington said in his blog posting, Rathakrishnan e-mailed him to say that TechCrunch was no longer involved in the development of the CrunchPad: "Chandra said that based on pressure from his shareholders he had decided to move forward and sell the device directly through Fusion Garage without our involvement."
Arrington claimed that neither TechCrunch nor Fusion Garage owns the intellectual property related to the CrunchPad, that development costs and staffing for the project had been shared between the two entities, and that he intends to fire a broadside of lawsuits against Fusion Garage.
"The legal system will work it all out over time," Arrington wrote. "Mostly though I'm just sad. I never envisioned the CrunchPad as a huge business. I just wanted a tablet computer that I could use to consume the Internet while sitting on a couch."
Rathakrishnan, speaking to reporters during the Web conference, pushed a completely different version of events.
"Michael made many promises suggesting he will deliver on hardware, software and funding, none of which came true," the Fusion Garage CEO said, according to a Los Angeles Times blog posting about the event. "We had to move on. [Fusion Garage] did the hardware. We had made the software. And we had secured the funding. Michael did not deliver on his promises, and we decided to move on."
In addition, Rathakrishnan said he came up with the concept of a cheap, touch-screen tablet for surfing the Internet, and pitched it to Arrington.
The legal system will likely work it all out over time.
Long considered a niche part of the tech industry, tablets have seen a revival of late. Companies such as Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble have adopted the form factor for their e-readers; Barnes & Noble's device, the Nook, utilizes a 6-inch e-ink display for reading text alongside an iPhone-like touch screen for navigating through an online bookstore. Both the Nook and Amazon.com's Kindle line utilize a 3G connection for downloading books.
The true test of the tablet form factor's viability in the marketplace, however, could come if Apple releases its long-rumored tablet PC sometime in 2010. Although there have been no official announcements from Apple concerning such a device, analysts have spent the past few months fervently conjecturing about the possible features of such a device.