What the CrunchPad drama means for the Apple Tablet

I will admit that it's been fascinating fun to watch the complete and public unravelling of the CrunchPad project over the last few days! It's terrible, but I've found it amusing to watch one of the Internet's top blowhards see one of his high-profile projects wrested away from him (in his telling of the story; more on that in a moment). But the CrunchPad story has more than just schadenfreudish interest for Apple watchers. After all, in the world of vaporware tablet computing products, the CrunchPad was the low-end working-person's counterpart to the fabled Apple Tablet.

One of the distinguishing features of the CrunchPad was to be its price. As initially conceived by Arrington, it was to be a $200 gadget. To me, this seems to be about right for something that will not actually replace your laptop, your television, or your smartphone, but might in certain contexts be better at certain things that those other necessary pieces of equipment. Part of the CrunchPad's story has been the slow increase of its rumored price point, though, and today Fusion Garage, the manufacturing company that last week broke with Arrington announced today that the gizmo, rebranded Joo Joo (wait, what?), will go on sale for $499. Fusion Garage's Chandra Rathakrishnan claimed, in a nutshell, that his company was pretty much already working on this product, and that Arrington made vague promises to market it and acquire their company, which he never made good on. And when it came to the price? Well, keep in mind that Arrington is a lawyer, not an engineer, and there didn't really seem to be any basis for the $200 price other than that's what Arrington wanted to pay for such a thing. On the subject of how realistic that ever was, said Rathakrishnan "There are dreams, and then there are hallucinations." The fact is that price points of gadgets are set by the price of components and manufacturing, not because someone thinks a particular price for something would be awesome.

How does this relate to the Apple Tablet? Well, call me crazy, but I'm willing to believe that this mythical beast, if it exists, will be of higher quality than the CrunchPad/Joo Joo (and a better name, to boot). I'd also bet that Apple is going to want a higher margin than Fusion Garage will be willing to take. To me, this says that even the picked out of an analyst's hat price of $599 might not be realistic for an Apple Tablet. And then what? Will anyone be willing to pay more than $600 for this? I have my doubts. But if nothing else, the Joo Joo -- which you can pre-order this coming Friday -- will offer a glimpse as to what sort of demand there is for this sort of gadget at this sort of price point. And Apple's got to be grateful for such a preview.

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