CrunchPad Almost Ready for Prime Time

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TechCrunch yesterday released conceptual drawings of the prototype for its Web tablet project, called the CrunchPad. The simplified device is a touch-screen tablet designed specifically for Web surfing, video chat, and light e-mail use.

Photo courtesy of TechCrunch

There are no physical models of the product yet, but TechCrunch plans on having prototypes of the final device within the next few weeks. There isn't a lot of information on the device, but based on what we know the CrunchPad will have an Intel Atom chipset, two USB ports, a Webcam and microphone. The CrunchPad operating system is custom-built Linux software that boots directly into a Web browser based on the open source browser engine, WebKit. The last CrunchPad we saw had a plastic frame and came in three colors, but now they've decided to go with an aluminum case to reduce the device's thickness, according to TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington. Arrington did not say whether the final version of the CrunchPad would come in a variety of colors.

There are no dimension specs on the previous prototypes, but if the launch model of the CrunchPad works out as planned, the device's thickness will be less than an inch, and the screen will be flush with the CrunchPad's aluminum casing.

The company also released a previously unseen YouTube video showing the plastic CrunchPad prototype in action. When you turn on the device, you are presented with more than 30 round launch badges to popular Web destinations including Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, The New York Times, Yahoo, MSN, and others. A swipe to the right opens a Web page, and further swipes to the right navigate to any other Web pages you have open. You can scroll up and down a Web page from the far right side of the CrunchPad screen. A swipe up from the middle of the screen calls up a keyboard with device controls and integrated search buttons for Wikipedia, YouTube and others. A center screen down swipe displays a crossbar with all your open Web pages for faster navigation than constant right swipes. There were also four tabs at the top of the CrunchPad's homepage, but their functions were not specified.

While the CrunchPad looks impressive, the device wasn't able to deliver a smooth video stream from YouTube during the demo video. The developer showing off the device blamed the problems on a poor Internet connection. There were also problems with some of the gesture controls, since some movements for navigating a Web page and getting around the device are similar.

This is the final information TechCrunch is planning to release on their device until a special press event next month. Arrington did not specify what would happen at the event, but presumably TechCrunch will announce a launch date and provide an official demo of the final CrunchPad. There's still no word on pricing, but Arrington previously said he wanted to develop a sub-$300 device. The CrunchPad is being developed by TechCrunch in partnership with Fusion Garage, and Arrington says TechCrunch is in negotiations with "key partners" to bring the device to market.

The CrunchPad has been in development since July 2008, as a sort of protest against the fact that mainstream computer makers have yet to bring a cheap, Web tablet device to market. However, Apple is widely rumored to be developing its own tablet device; however, there's no word on whether the Apple tablet would be a simplified Web surfing device or Apple's answer to the netbook phenomenon. Most tech watchers believe Cupertino will not unveil their tablet, assuming it's real, during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference next week. But it will be interesting to see if Arrington's CrunchPad announcement, and a presumably imminent product launch, prompts any changes in Apple's plans at WWDC.

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