Campbell: CrunchPad packs the punch without the price

By by Donald Campbell

Gone are the days when expensive necessarily meant cooler. The original Macintosh all-in-one… Gone are the days when expensive necessarily meant cooler. The original Macintosh all-in-one computer, which seemed to revolutionize the personal computer industry, originally cost $4,000. A college student looking for a good machine wouldn’t dream of spending that much. In fact, many computer manufacturers find a profitable and widespread marketplace for cut-down machines, capable of performing tasks adequately and without any wasted power. With the ability to cut down the specifications of hardware comes the ability to cut the price. Netbooks, as they are being labeled, commonly can cost around $300, a small amount of money when compared to the expenditures required to purchase full-fledged laptops. The one thing that hasn’t been on the horizon is the availability of a touchscreen or tablet netbook. The technology had been assumed to be simply too costly to cut the price by half or more. An article recently posted on TechCrunch, an online blog about new technological development efforts, blew away previous wisdom about the price requirements of tablet computers. The article is an update on an initially proposed project to develop a tablet Internet machine for $200. The CrunchPad prototype, as the group developing it is calling it, is a MacBook-esque device, complete with a color touch-screen and Wi-Fi Internet capabilities. It currently runs a port of Ubuntu Linux, and the price goal is appearing to be alluringly close. ‘Just over $200.’ Two immediate thoughts should come to mind when you read the above report. First, is it a ‘full-featured’ tablet? Also, why was it only mentioned as an Internet machine? Put most simply, no it is not technically a ‘full-featured’ tablet, and designers only mentioned the Internet because of the fact that the designers created the machine primarily for Internet usage. Their idea is rather ingenious and simple. If you cut down the advertised capabilities of the machine, you can cut down the hardware required and thereby the price. The CrunchPad runs first and foremost a browser. From pictures given of the machine, however, it is a full-featured browser, capable of displaying Web site at a resolution of 1024-by-768 pixels. If this is completely meaningless to you, suffice it to say that most Internet sites can be comfortably and attractively displayed at that resolution. User input is taken care of using a keyboard emulation tool that responds to a user’s touch. The keyboard appears to be of standard QWERTY configuration. The most attractive aspect of it is that it runs on an Intel Atom-equivalent processor. The Intel Atom is a small, low-energy processor used in many modern Netbooks and some small desktops. The CrunchPad should, for ‘just over $200,’ be able to keep up fine with the middle range of Netbooks currently available. You might still be skeptical, however, that a machine only capable of displaying the Internet is of any use. Think this over, though. As Internet technology progresses, more and more applications may become browser-based. A significant number of office tasks performed on computers can be fully replicated by using Google’s suite of online tools. The only shortcoming may be those who wish to play video games. The CrunchPad, like other Netbooks, however, is not powerful enough to be of much use in the gaming world, regardless of its status as an ‘Internet-only’ device. The CrunchPad is also billed as being capable of fully displaying browser-embedded movies and Flash and Java files. This inevitably opens the user up to a wider range of browser-based applications and thus greatly increases the usefulness of the CrunchPad. Special attention has been given to user interactivity, as well. For those who are fond of the Apple propensity to put accelerometers in their devices, giving the device the ability to respond to shaking or a change in orientation, the CrunchPad offers similar technology. Changing the orientation of the CrunchPad will cause the machine to change its view, allowing you to view pages that require greater length or greater width or to simply view more of an image at once without scrolling. The best part about the project, however? The team indicates that further research into cost-effective case and display technology may yield a device that is just less than $200. That’s a modest bar tab for a Friday night you plan on not remembering.