Did the CrunchPad Crumble Under High Costs?

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TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington's dream of a simple Web tablet, dubbed the CrunchPad, could be fading due to higher-than-expected costs, according to a report from Silicon Alley Insider.

The Insider's sources, referred to as "a few people on a recent trip to California," seem a bit fragile, but they say Arrington's suppliers came back with higher price quotes than anticipated, and so the project has been shelved, perhaps indefinitely.

Arrington didn't comment on the story, and in fact his silence over the past few months may be the biggest clue that something's up. Speaking to the New York Times in July, he said the CrunchPad would be unveiled at an event that month or the next. The event never happened, and Arrington hasn't provided an update.

The CrunchPad, in Arrington's words, was supposed to be a "dead simple" tablet whose main reason for existence was browsing the Web. Photos of a 12.8- by 7.8- by 0.7-inch device surfaced in late July, with netbook specs — Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM, built-in Wi-Fi and possibly 3G — and an estimated price of $400.

That's twice what Arrington was shooting for when he announced his dream device in July 2008, and last January, Arrington wrote that "$299 is more realistic." When the Straits Times in Singapore profiled the company developing the CrunchPad in July, citing an unconfirmed price of $400, the writing was on the wall.

The Insider's Dan Frommer offered a wild theory that the CrunchPad could just be waiting to launch with Google's Chrome OS, but I think it would be a mistake for a major technology blogger to actually get into business with a major technology company, so that theory seems unlikely.

Besides, there are still the hardware costs to deal with. If the CrunchPad can't be sold on the cheap, it runs smack into the rumored Apple tablet and a slew of netbooks with more functionality.

If the CrunchPad is dead, I do applaud Arrington for trying. He'll have proven at least one thing: Running a tech blog doesn't mean you can cut it as a gadget maker.

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