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Guy Vs. Guy: Should We Mourn the CrunchPad?

Welcome to Guy Vs. Guy! In this recurring feature, Rick and Dave square off on the business and technology issues of the day. This week's topic: The CrunchPad (which was just rechristened the JooJoo -- yes, JooJoo.) What will we remember about it? Michael Arrington's vision? A doomed product launch? A silly name? (Two of them, actually.)
Rick: You think Tiger Woods had a bad week? Michael Arrington, the famous-among-geeks founder of TechCrunch, saw his 18-months-in-the-making pet project crumble just weeks before its public launch. CrunchPad, tablet PC of the future, we hardly knew ye. In fact, we didn't know ye at all. But are we sad, amused, or just plain indifferent that this intriguing product never saw the light of day?

Dave: Well, I'll admit that the prototypes looked promising. But let's not forget that computing history has been littered with a variety of failed or not-quite-successful tablet PCs going all the way back to the early 90s. Why would anyone think that this particular design -- the inspiration of noted blowhard Michael Arrington -- would fare any better? Actually, with potential tablets on the way from Microsoft and Apple, I can't help but wonder if this implosion was staged to allow the CrunchPad investors to exit the stage quietly before getting steamrolled by the big guys.

Rick: Well, let's remember that no one knew how incredible a smartphone could be until Apple unveiled the iPhone. Perhaps the CrunchPad would have done the same for tablets. And I can see the appeal of a "couch computer" (Arrington's own description of what he wanted the device for), an inexpensive, lightweight, screen-driven PC for checking e-mail, peeking at Web pages, streaming YouTube vids, and the like. And say what you will about Arrington, he managed to take his vision all the way from concept to near-finished product. Too bad we may never get to see it.

Dave: If Barnes & Noble gets wise, they'll add a general-purpose browser to the Nook. And that's really the heart of the issue -- the Crunchpad wasn't a unique, innovative device. There are tablet-like gadgets all over the place. The iPhone, the Droid, the Nook, the Kindle. The Zune HD. Any tablet PC already on the market. The rumored gadgets coming from Apple and Microsoft. Obviously, none of those devices are as Crunchpad-y as the Crunchpad was expected to be. But the industry is converging on a great couch computer at an ever-accelerating rate. With or without Arrington, we'll have a cheap, Web-surfin' tablet-y thing within a year. Correction: Without.

Rick: I'd be very surprised to see B&N do anything proactive like that with the Nook. They're a bookseller, and the Nook is all about books. (It even rhymes, see?) No, at the risk of sounding like a fanboy, it's going to take Apple to bring tablets into the mainstream. What remains to be seen is whether the "iTablet" (or whatever it ends up being called) will have a reasonable price tag -- which I doubt. The CrunchPad was expected to sell for around $300, at which point buying a Nook or Kindle would make little sense. I think Apple, Microsoft, and the rest will start with devices in the $700-800 range -- and buyers will stay away in droves.

Dave: You risked fanboydom and you lost. Personally, I don't believe that "it's going to take Apple" to make tablets go mainstream -- any more than it took Apple to make one-button mice, cube shaped air-cooled PCs, or Newton MessagePads go mainstream. We all know what a tablet should look like: a low price point, a large, high-quality display, and -- importantly -- an effective input model to allow users to easily interact with Web pages. Honestly, most of that isn't rocket science, and the fact that Arrington couldn't pull it off probably says more about his business or engineering savvy than the difficulty of the project.

Rick: You owned a Newton, did you not? It paved the way for the PalmPilot, which in turn begat the iPhone. I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here. Are you saying it's Arrington's fault the CrunchPad met its early demise? And that you're glad it did? I think it's the market's loss: one less little guy taking on the giant corporations. Remember a little upstart search engine called Google? Think where we'd be today if Sergey Brin and Larry Page hadn't taken up staff and sling against goliath Yahoo?

Dave: Yes, I had a Newton. Me and 49 other people. The Newton had as much to do with mainstreaming PDAs as poison dart frogs have to do with mainstreaming kittens -- it was Palm's PalmPilot that singlehandedly introduced the world to PDAs. Likewise, you don't even have any evidence that Arrington had a near-finished product, aside from his say-so. The whole thing was vaporware, and I'm a little surprised that you've bought into this so profoundly with such slight evidence that there was a meaningful product behind the hype. Here's the bottom line: the concept of the CrunchPad was good, but then again so is the concept of a Star Trek transporter or genetically modified Hover Cats. If you want a real tablet, just wait. It's coming, one way or another, from someone more dependable than Michael Arrington.

Rick: Again, I'm still trying to divine your point. It's clear you don't like Arrington, but you do like flying cats. And in your world, the CrunchPad was vaporware because there wasn't enough "evidence" of it? Funny -- the iPhone was vaporware, too, right up until Steve Jobs announced it. As usual, your "argument" holds about as much water as a bucket made of Swiss cheese. Oh, and I never said the Newton "mainstreamed" the PalmPilot -- I said it begat it. Who knows if Jeff Hawkins would have conceived of the PalmPilot if the Newton hadn't preceded it? Likewise, the CrunchPad might have become the PalmPilot of its time -- a better, smarter version of the failed devices that came before.

Dave: My point: I won't mourn the CrunchPad becuase I don't mourn vaporware. In fact, my vow to you is that if the CrunchPad is real, I will eat my Hover Cat.

Okay, who won the debate? Weigh in -- in the comments!