$300 CrunchPad is no more, legal mess all that remains

After nearly a year and a half of planning, preparation and work, TechCrunch's CrunchPad is no more. In fact, all that remains of the project is a big legal mess.

After nearly a year and a half of planning, preparation and work, TechCrunch's CrunchPad is no more. In fact, all that remains of the project is a big legal mess.

Michael Arrington explains all:

Our plan was to debut the CrunchPad on stage at the Real-Time Crunchup event on November 20, a little over a week ago. We even hoped to have devices hacked together with Google Chrome OS and Windows 7 to show people that you could hack this thing to run just about anything you want. We’d put 1,000 of the devices on pre-sale and take orders immediately. Larger scale production would begin early in 2010.

So, what was behind the death of the CrunchPad? It seems it fell foul of the three horsemen on tech projects:

And then the entire project self destructed over nothing more than greed, jealousy and miscommunication.

On November 17, our deadline date for greenlighting the debut three days later, the CEO of our partner on the project, Chandra Rathakrishnan, sent me an email with the subject “no good news.” Yuck, I thought. Another delay, probably with the screen that had been giving us so much trouble – capacitive touch at 12 inches isn’t trivial. And sure enough, the email started off with “no good news to update. updated hardware is still on its way , so that’s a timing issue. friday will be a challenge now.”

But the email went on. Bizarrely, we were being notified that we were no longer involved with the project. Our project. Chandra said that based on pressure from his shareholders he had decided to move forward and sell the device directly through Fusion Garage, without our involvement.

Err, what? This is the equivalent of Foxconn, who build the iPhone, notifiying Apple a couple of days before launch that they’d be moving ahead and selling the iPhone directly without any involvement from Apple.

Chandra also forwarded an internal email from one of his shareholders. My favorite part of the email: “We still acknowledge that Arrington and TechCrunch bring some value to your business endeavor…If he agrees to our terms, we would have Arrington assume the role of visionary/evangelist/marketing head and Fusion Garage would acquire the rights to use the Crunchpad brand and name. Personally, I don’t think the name is all that important but you seem to be somewhat attached to the name.”

The reason for the meltdown seems obvious ... the project was a joint venture rather, and history is littered with the corpses of dead joint ventures. I'm not surprised the CrunchPad never saw light of day. It was an ambitious project. In fact, I'm surprised the project got as far as it did. Shame it had to collapse at the final hurdle.

All that's left is the legal mess:

Ultimately there are two sides to every story, and they’ll certainly have their side. We will almost certainly be filing multiple lawsuits against Fusion Garage, and possibly Chandra and his shareholders as individuals, shortly. The legal system will work it all out over time.

Guess the market is now wide open for Apple's digital unicorn tablet.