CrunchPad dies in a stunning display of web-drama

Partner Fusion Garage tries to squeeze out TechCrunch

Remember the Crunchpad? That "dead simple" device that TechCrunch's Mike Arrington wanted to build? In June we were going to hear about it in July. In August I compared it to Apple's iTablet. In November Arrington said there'd be "big news on that, shortly." And now there is. CrunchPad has gone from "dead simple" to just plain dead, according to a new post by Arrington.

And what a strange post it is! Arrington claims they were planning to officially introduce the device at an event on November 20th, but three days before that event Chandra Rathakrishnan, the CEO of Fusion Garage (the outfit working with the CrunchPad team to get the device developed and manufactured) attempted to wrest control of the project from Arrington:

Bizarrely, we were being notified that we were no longer involved with the project. Our project. 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 goes on to say that neither Fusion Garage nor TechCrunch own full intellectual rights to the CrunchPad, and neither company can legally produce and distribute the CrunchPad alone, so the project is dead.

In the meanwhile, the Fusion Garage website has been stripped to nothing more than a placeholder and a contact email. Google cache to the rescue. You can read the few blog posts that were on the site as recently as yesterday. Presumably Rathakrishnan decided to take the blog down after Arrington publicly announced plans to sue Fusion Garage, and Rathakrishnan personally, in his post.

Of course, even Arrington admits that he's only telling one side of the story, and so far Fusion Garage hasn't shared its version of what's going on.

With the facts-according-to-Arrington out of the way, the TechCrunch post devolves into a pity-party of losing a dear friendship ("I thought we’d [Arrington and Rathakrishnan] be friends for the rest of our lives") and then goes on to claim they had the support of Intel and "a major multi-billion dollar retail partner," both of which were cutting him great (one might even call them unbelievable) deals to help get the CrunchPad out into users hands at around $300. Not to mention "blue chip angel and venture capitalist investors" as well as other partners. Why would Fusion Garage walk away from all this? For that matter, with all this support, why did the CrunchPad need Fusion Garage?

Clearly there's more to this story than we've heard. Is the CrunchPad really dead, or is this post just saber-rattling on the part of Arrington? I'm no lawyer, but it seems strange to write a post announcing "We will almost certainly be filing multiple lawsuits against Fusion Garage, and possibly Chandra and his shareholders as individuals, shortly." TechCrunch, of course, is a hugely influential tech blog and a mighty big lever that Arrington can pull on whenever he cares to. I have to wonder if this is his way of negotiating with Fusion Garage?

If the CrunchPad really is dead, I'll mourn its loss. I still would love to have a big, light tablet for web access from the couch. At least if the price was $300. Of course the last numbers we've heard were $300-$400 and $400 is too much. Not everyone agrees with me, though. CNET put together an interesting post, With CrunchPad dead, the Web reacts that aggregates the viewpoints of both supporters and detractors of the CrunchPad (or perhaps of Arrington himself). It's an interesting read.

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