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July 27, 2009

CrunchPad or Apple Tablet? Why I’m Leaning CrunchPad…

Something odd must be in Silicon Valley’s drinking water these days. Not only did I tell you two months ago that I didn’t care what operating system you used, and not only am I typing this on the work-issued Dell laptop, but when thinking about the potential release of Apple’s long-rumored iTouch tablet, I’m not yet saving up my greenbacks and lining up at my nearest Apple Store. In fact, despite the almost equal lack of information, I just might be more likely to buy a CrunchPad, despite its not having Steve Jobs’ official seal of approval.

First of all, in order to purchase a tablet PC (or tablet Mac), I would need to find a use case for it. At times, in fact, the entire tablet market at times seems more of a solution in pursuit of a problem. With my iPhone being such an amazing device, getting me my phone calls, e-mail and mobile Web on the go, and my laptop running all my needed apps, making room for a third “in between” device seems a bit over the top.

That Apple has finally turned the corner on getting its tablet out the door, having met the demanding eye of Jobs, is very interesting. I can see benefits of going with an Apple machine immediately of having the standard Apple look and feel, industrial design, and synchronization of my data, including with the iPhone and iTunes. That’s all good stuff. But I also believe that it would be more expensive than the CrunchPad, which is rumored to be about $200-$300 less per unit, and the early concepts making it look like a giant iPod Touch make it seem as fragile as a china plate. If you thought you got scratches on your iPhone now, or you thought there was an uproar when the G4 Cube got cracks, just wait until your iTouch Grande gets split like a windshield nailed with a rock on the freeway.

So what of the CrunchPad? First of all, its industrial design mockups are equal to, if not better, than the ones I have seen allegedly from Apple so far. The CrunchPad also promises to be lower cost, and forces a new paradigm of being 100% a Web device. Yes, that sounds odd, to praise a machine for effectively limiting what I can do with it. But through those limitations, it makes us think differently (like Apple did) about how we use our electronics gadgets and consume the Web. And it has a side benefit of being from somebody I consider a peer, who is stepping outside of his comfort zone and taking a risk.

Betting on the CrunchPad is a bet for the small upstart challenger, in the same way that betting on Apple once was against Microsoft. And the CrunchPad doesn’t look like it’s going to shatter on impact.

If it’s very simple to use, I could see this low-cost Web-only device (or at least its third version) quite possibly being the first computer for my twins, who may not ever need the suites from Adobe and Microsoft like I have my entire computer-using tenure. A bet on the CrunchPad rewards the idea that bloggers can grow from simply reporting on the news to making the news. Yes, I recognize that Mike Arrington and TechCrunch are already among the most well-known blog networks out there, and have to be considered a success on their own as is, not suffering for dollars, but can you imagine bumping into the guy at a meetup in the Valley, holding the tablet from Apple when his CrunchPad offers the same specs for half the price?

While much has yet to be revealed about both devices, we just might be on the verge of seeing a market-changing event, where there are multiple serious alternatives both arriving at the same time, ostensibly for different buyers. It is quite possible that even if the CrunchPad is a superior, less expensive device, that Apple’s marketing could eat it alive. It’s also quite possible that both could fall short of expectations, or that by choosing one or the other, I could be left with a short-termed albatross. But if I can find a great reason to get a tablet, and both deliver to the specs I’ve seen today, we’re going to be saving a few hundred bucks and buying a CrunchPad. Let my iPhone be my phone and my Mac be my real computer experience, but for this new space, I’m looking for something really new.