Friday, July 3, 2009

Couch Computing -> Michael Arrington's CrunchPad


We’ve been working hard behind the scenes on the CrunchPad since our last update in April, and have just about nailed down the final design for the device. We’re showing the conceptual drawings here today. In another few weeks we’ll have the first working prototypes in our office.

This launch prototype is another significant step forward from the last prototype. The screen is now flush with the case and we’ve decreased the overall thickness to about 18 mm. The case will be aluminum, which is more expensive than plastic but is sturdier and lets us shave a little more off the overall thickness of the device.

I believe the device now actually looks better than the original concept design we published last summer. Compare the images below to the first prototype and you can see how far we’ve come. If you’re interested, here’s Prototype B. Pictures of Prototype C, which is the device we’re actually demo’ing to people now, are here.

A lot has happened behind the scenes, too. Our partner Fusion Garage continues to drive the software forward, and we are in deep discussions with key partners to bring the device to market. If you’d like to see the previous CrunchPad in action, we have a previously-private video available on YouTube that shows our vision for the user interface and the last version of the software stack. This is a Linux based operating system and a Webkit based browser. The device boots directly into the browser.

An article in NY Times 

Michael Arrington, founder of the influential tech blog TechCrunch, has been talking for a year about building a touch-screen tablet for Web surfing. Now, it appears that the CrunchPad is about to become a reality.

The San Francisco Business Times reported Friday that Mr. Arrington has incorporated a separate company called CrunchPad. Later on Friday, he told us he would hold an event at the end of July or the beginning of August to make a big announcement about the CrunchPad, and the tablet would be for sale “as soon as possible.”

Mr. Arrington is a former corporate lawyer who became a blogger — not exactly the résumé of a hardware developer. “I just wanted this, and no one will build it,” he said.

The purpose of the CrunchPad will be very simple: surfing the Web. Turn it on and up comes a browser. It is nothing more than “an Internet consumption device,” for reading, checking e-mail or watching video, Mr. Arrington said. It will not have a hard drive or keyboard, though users can plug it in to a keyboard if they wish. It will cost less than $300, he said.

The CrunchPad will be 16 millimeters thick with a screen of at least 12 inches that is flush with the aluminum case, and it will come in different colors. It will run on an Intel Atom chip and support Flash, which the Apple iPhone cannot.

There are pictures of the latest prototype at TechCrunch. (They even show you what it would look like to read NYTimes.com on the CrunchPad!)

Mr. Arrington said the CrunchPad would be different from netbooks, the mini-laptops made by companies like Acer, Asustek and Dell that my colleagues have written about. Many of those have small keyboards and offer more capabilities than just a browser, like running Microsoft Word.

The additional applications bog down the performance of netbooks, Mr. Arrington said. “Most people will find it works as good as a netbook or better,” he said of the CrunchPad.

He said it will also be different from the tablet computer that Apple is rumored to be building. He has speculated that an Apple tablet could run iPhone applications and be $500 to $1,000. “I’ll buy three of those, that sounds awesome,” he said. “I don’t intend to be the Pre for the iPhone,” he said. “This is very different from what they’re doing.”

The project started a year ago, when Mr. Arrington wrote a post asking for help from readers to develop a “dead simple Web tablet.” Since then, it has been referred to internally as “Mike’s science project,” and he said he has been spending two-thirds of his time over the last six months working on it.

Most of the development work has been done by his team of 15 in Singapore. They are part of Fusion Garage, a start-up with the motto: “What if the browser could boot without an OS? How different would the world be?” The team showed up at the 2008 TechCrunch50 conference, and TechCrunch is now closing its acquisition of the start-up.

Building hardware has not been as hard as he thought it would be, he said, though he was surprised by the ferocity of the competition, which he said has been much more cutthroat than it is among software and Web companies.

The development of the CrunchPad has been funded internally, Mr. Arrington said. He would not comment on whether he has raised outside capital but said that TechCrunch is a very small shareholder.

He said he will remain actively involved for now, but wants to replace himself at CrunchPad and return his full-time focus to the blog.

Here is the near-final industrial design for the CrunchPad:



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