Tablet pioneer Fusion Garage has returned from the dead in a blaze of bizarre PR, launching new Android-powered products in the hopes that everyone has forgotten about the JooJoo.
Just in case you have, let us refresh your memory: back in 2008 TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington proposed a lightweight, cheap tablet-format device running Firefox and Skype which would allow readers to access his site while out and about for the princely sum of $200.
Dubbed the CrunchPad, Arrington's designs for the device came about two years before Apple would capture the market with its far more expensive iPad tablet. To bring his concept to fruition, Arrington partnered with a little-known company called Fusion Garage to construct and sell the CrunchPad based on his designs.
That, in retrospect, was his first real mistake. Despite prototypes being demonstrated on the TechCrunch site in 2009, Arrington declared the project dead in November of that year in a legal argument with Fusion Garage that saw Arrington claim full intellectual property rights to the project.
Fusion Garage chief executive Chandra Rathakrishnan saw things differently, claiming that Arrington had signed over all rights to the project and was simply on board to help publicise the project. Despite lawsuits from Arrington, Rathakrishnan brought the CrunchPad to market under the name JooJoo.
Sadly, little was left of Arrington's beloved design. The $200 tablet had suddenly been given a retail price of $499, and numerous production delays meant that the device was quickly overshadowed by Apple's launch of the iPad. Worse, reviews were scathing, pointing to numerous build quality issues and buggy software as being reasons to avoid the device at all costs.
With Fusion Garage slinking off into the sunset, most had thought the CrunchPad tale over. Recently, however, journalists have been receiving strange packages from a company calling itself 'TabCo' and hinting at the launch of a revolutionary new device. Puzzles and cryptic hints were included, and 'TabCo' paid for PR stunts as bizarre as skywriting over an Apple conference.
In case you hadn't guessed the punchline yet, 'TabCo' is Fusion Garage, back from the dead with new devices that it hopes will capture consumers' imaginations in a way that the original didn't.
Unveiled by chief executive Chandresekar Rathakrishnan in a pre-recorded 'press conference' in an empty auditorium late last night, the company's rebirth includes two new products: the Grid10, a 10-inch touch-screen tablet; and the Grid4, a matching smartphone with a four-inch screen.
Both devices are powered by Android, but customised in a way that mimics the operating system used for the original JooJoo tablet. Dubbed GridOS, the platform includes support for third-party application stores - but not Google's Android Market - and includes Microsoft's Bing as the search provider and a custom productivity suite called Frames.
The hardware is fairly standard for an Android tablet, with a 1366x768 TFT display, 1.2GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and a 1.3 megapixel camera, but the performance appeared lacklustre when Rathakrishnan demonstrated the device live on stage with basic web pages taking significantly longer to load than expected and multitasking appearing choppy.
"This isn't just another tablet," crowed Rathakrishnan at the unveiling. "This isn't just another OS. Grid10 is innovation. It's nothing like what you have out there. It's just stunning."
Admitting that the quality of the JooJoo failed to live up to his company's hype, Rathakrishnan had a surprise for anyone who has been burned by the company before: anyone who bought a JooJoo tablet will receive a Grid10 free of charge by way of apology.
Pricing for the Grid10 and Grid4 are set at the higher end of the market, with the tablet fetching $499 in Wi-Fi or $599 in 3G flavours and the smartphone $399 SIM-free, with the first shipments expected before the end of the year. Thus far, the company hasn't indicated whether the devices will be coming to the UK.