The December 2009 launch of the Fusion Garage JooJoo tablet computer did not go well. The tablet launched before the iPad but received none of Apple's success. There was little love from media or the public, and for good reason. The iPad undercut it on price and outperformed it in slickness and utility. The product itself was not reliable. And since there was no application marketplace, there were no developers beating the JooJoo drumbeat.
Then there was the legal battle with former development partner TechCrunch, which filed suit against Fusion Garage claiming fraud, intellectual property theft, and other crimes. The legal battle is ongoing.
Fusion Garage isn't out of the game yet. CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan, in fact, has since raised additional funding: $3 million, bringing the total investment in the company to $10 million. Here's the plan. Unfortunately, it's not enough.
First, Fusion Garage would like to remind the world that its first-generation tablet is still for sale. This is the $499, Atom-powered, 12.1-inch wide-screen tablet that the company first showed off in December. Don't buy it. The hardware is out of date. And even with its improved firmware and bespoke OS, it's sluggish and frustrating to use, and it can't play Flash HD video smoothly in full-screen view. Why have a gigantic display if not to play video? Battery life is horrendous. My sample wound down in just a few hours--and that was in standby mode.
Rathakrishnan admits that this platform "has shortcomings." While I appreciate finally getting a JooJoo that works (our review unit from early in the year is dead as a mud brick), it was a tactical mistake to leave this dated device with me, as it only serves to remind that JooJoo's only existing product is not competitive. It would be a mistake for anyone to buy one. Furthermore, Fusion Garage is abandoning the platform.
The next JooJoo tablets--the plan is to make more than one model, in different sizes--will be based on Android. But they won't be Android tablets the way the Samsung Galaxy is or Archos products are. Instead, Rathakrishnan says, "Think of it as BSD on the Mac." The JooJoo's core OS will be a fork of Android, with a unique feature set and user experience. Android apps will be supported, but I gather they'll appear to be somewhat alien to anyone using the JooJoo's own UI.
The unique feature of the JooJoo platform will be device-to-device state synchronization. Whatever you're doing on your JooJoo will be saved to the cloud, so when you go to another JooJoo device, or even to your PC (assuming you have the JooJoo software on it), you'll be able to pick up right where you left off. That's a nice vision, but in fact, it's already here and will not be unique: Firefox has cross-device tab sync; Netflix knows where you pause a video and will restarts it at that spot no matter which of your devices you're using; and so on. Saving state to the cloud is becoming a common feature. It won't work as a selling proposition.
It is good to see Fusion Garage moving on from its dead-end platform, which didn't have app support and which couldn't keep up with Android development. But the company will have to do more than just get on the Google bandwagon to make an impact in what is shaping up to be a well-joined battle for the tablet market.
Rathakrishnan says that the new JooJoos will be sold in retail and by mobile operators, maybe even subsidized. No partnerships have been announced. I'd like to be proven wrong, but I'm skeptical he'll get any onboard. Even the mobile carriers must know that consumers will be asking for either complete Android flexibility, or a compelling reason to go in a different direction, as is the new Barnes and Noble Nook Color, a $250, locked-down Android tablet well-designed to serve as an e-reader.
It is harsh to count out Fusion Garage before the company shows its next-generation products. They may be great. But nothing I have heard from Fusion Garage recently gives me a reason to believe that the company will be competitive in technology, features, or price.