JooJoo waves off iPad competition

Rebranded CrunchPad tablet's ability to provide richer surfing experience and support for Flash apps will be differentiator against Apple device, says founder.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

SINGAPORE--Fusion Garage is confident its JooJoo device will stand its ground against competing Apple iPad because of the company's focus on providing a richer surfing experience and support for Flash, according to its founder.

Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan, founder and CEO of Singapore-based Fusion Garage, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia Tuesday, JooJoo will deliver a better Web experience than the iPad, adding that it is "not a me-too device" since it debuted last year--over a month before Apple's tablet device was announced last week.

Legal woes no barrier

Fusion Garage made the headlines in December 2009 when it fell out with its former U.S. partner, technology blog site TechCrunch. Both companies had initially agreed to build and launch a much-anticipated slate surfing device, CrunchPad. TechCrunch alleged that Fusion Garage edged it out the deal, attempting to sell the device under its own name, and filed suit against the Singapore company.

Fusion Garage later renamed the device JooJoo. CEO Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan said the company has since filed a countersuit to dismiss TechCrunch's claims, on the grounds that they are baseless. He reiterated that all of the device's intellectual property is owned by Fusion Garage, including the venture capital that was raised to get the project started.

On the negative publicity suffered by the company, Rathakrishnan said it will not affect JooJoo's upcoming launch later this month. "It is just a matter of time" before the truth will be made known, he said.

Pointing to the iPad's lack of Flash compatibility, Rathakrishnan added that one main differentiator he expects users to appreciate is JooJoo's "full Web surfing experience" because it can support any Web-based application.

"There are too many Flash-enabled sites to ignore," he said, noting that some of these include YouTube and games on Facebook.

With the Web then serving as the "world's largest app store", JooJoo is equipped to compete against Apple's proprietary App Store, he added.

"Most of the apps found on Apple's App Store are derivatives of what can be found on Web sites, repurposed for the iPhone--repurposed, because you don't get the full experience [as you would] on the [main] site," Rathakrishnan said.

Apple, however, presents its App Store as a differentiating experience, where apps can be purchased and accessed exclusively by Apple device owners. This discourages other hardware manufacturers from simply copying the company's devices since their users will not have access to Apple apps.

But Rathakrishnan said he was unfazed by the prospect of copycat devices surfacing. He noted that the hardware business is "a commodity game", and added that other manufacturers may also not be able to reproduce "as good an experience on a capacitive screen" that JooJoo is capable of providing.

The device will also be supported by its version of a "store", he said, with a constantly-updated list of Web apps pushed to users, akin to the way Apple's App Store allows users to discover new apps. The list will be updated by Fusion Garage's employees, based on what apps are popular with other JooJoo users.

He added that the iPad's launch did not steal JooJoo's limelight, but helped "create awareness for the category we created".

The iPad's price tag of US$499 also "coincidentally" matched JooJoo's, he said, adding that Apple CEO Steve Jobs, in introducing the iPad, called it magical several times--JooJoo, he noted, is an African term for "magical".

Building hardware partnerships
According to Rathakrishnan, the company has sealed an agreement with a company that will pay for the production cost of the device, in exchange for a royalty sum on each unit sold.

"The partner is betting that [JooJoo] will sell in large volumes, and this partnership will also allow us to manufacture and ship in high volumes," he said.

He said the name of the partner will be announced next week, but revealed that it was a "large Southeast Asian manufacturer" that is also in the mobile business and has a mobile market share just behind that of Nokia.

The manufacturer will not be making the devices, but funding its production, he added.

The device starts shipping in the United States end of this month, and will begin shipping to other countries, including Singapore, by mid-2010, Rathakrishnan said.

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