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Tuesday, 07 July 2009 10:48

CrunchPad tablet coming soon for around US $300

Presumably still months before any Apple “MacBook iTablet” will appear, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington’s “CrunchPad” will go on sale, booting through Linux into a Webkit based browser for what could be the best low-cost cloud computing touch-tablet experience thus far – and it’s sure to be very quickly hacked!

Touch screen tablet computers have actually been with us for many years, but have never taken off with the public in the way that notebooks, netbooks, mobile phones and iPhones have over the past decade.

Although Arrington’s CrunchPad and future Apple iTablet devices seem certain to change this, just as the iPhone has popularised touch screens far more than Microsoft’s “Pocket PCs” and smartphones ever did, touch computing has had several missteps.

Microsoft’s “Mira” wireless screen/tablet concept which was around a few years ago tried to popularise tablets, but cost far too much for what was really only a wireless touch-screen screen remote control to your main desktop computer.

It’s also despite early “Windows 3.1 for Pen Computers” and the much more advanced follow up in Windows XP and then Vista Tablet PCs in convertible and slate models.

Although they’ve been on sale for years, and today are more popular than ever (relatively speaking), Tablet PCs widely used at some schools, in vertical business and health markets and for some working in more office environments, but the imminent arrival of Windows 7 and its multi-touch capabilities could rapidly boost their popularity into the stratosphere.

Devices such as the CrunchPad and ever lighter Win 7, Mac OS X and Linux single touch and increasingly multi-touch slate and convertible tablets will finally rapidly change this mix, with the CrunchPad’s US $300 price set to break barriers as did the original Asus Eee PC 701, with 7-inch screen, 4GB SSD and Xandros Linux, which is still on sale in Australia (but now with 8GB of RAM) for AUD $294.

Indeed, given the success of netbooks, why a touch-screen tablet hasn’t been properly tried by Asian computer manufacturer is puzzling, especially when everyone is expecting Apple to release its own iTablet / iPhone Pro / MacBook either later this year or sometime in 2010.

The simple answers are the expense and thickness of capacitive multi-touch panels that can also accept stylus input, and the lack of a proper touch-based OS that worked as well as the iPhone.

As noted, Windows 7 should finally do a lot to bring multi-touch and pen-enabled Tablet PCs into the mainstream, as will multi-touch versions of Linux and OS X, but until then, the CrunchPad at its low US $300 price could be the device that everyone truly associates with Tablet PCs – once it launches.

There’s also great hackability potential with the CrunchPad… please read on to page 2!

Specs for the CrunchPad indicate it will have 1GB of RAM, will run an Intel Atom processor, will have at least one USB port, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and at least 4GB of storage.

With so little internal storage, the CrunchPad simply won’t be large enough to run Windows 7, but it could, in theory, happily run Windows XP.

Still, as an Atom based computer, the CrunchPad could run different Linux distros, and will clearly be hacked very quickly to run all kinds of other software than was originally intended – both software and hardware hacking.

The CrunchPad’s specs could change or be improved before release, or there could be things we don’t yet know about, but with a low price, the CrunchPad looks irresistible to many.

All that needs to happen now is an actual release, with more official information to come from Michael Arrington sometime this month, and a promise of units to come “ASAP” thereafter.

Then we should expect plenty of clones to arrive as the other OEMs watch the expected success of the CrunchPad and wonder why they aren’t offering a low-cost tablet PC, too – no matter what OS it is running.

All of this also helps push the multi-touch momentum – and makes us wonder what Arrington has planned for the CrunchPad 2!

Either way – I’m very keen to see the first CrunchPad come to life, especially if will truly cost US $299, which is a price much cheaper than you’d expect any Apple iTablet to arrive at.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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