Fusion Garage's Future is Clouded

Remember Fusion Garage and its JooJoo tablet--one of the first high-profile touch tablets? About a month before Apple announced the iPad, Fusion Garage beat them to the market with a Web-centric, Linux-based slate with a 12-inch display. But those heady tablet days appear to be gone: today, the company's future and its latest tablet, Grid10, are in question.

Fusion Garage is facing a growing list of angry customers seeking refunds and exchanges. To make matters worse, its U.S.-based law and public relations firms are separately dumping Fusion Garage as a client. The company's website also quietly disappeared over the weekend, only to reappear later, according to The Verge.

But wait: the plot thickens.

Here's what's going on--or at least, the best I can tell you about what's going on--with the company, based on forum posts, news reports, and statements made by Michael Arrington, the self-proclaimed co-creator of the JooJoo tablet, which was originally called the CrunchPad.

The Grid10

Fusion Garage's latest tablet, the Grid10, has a 10-inch display with 1366 by 768 pixel resolution, a 1.2GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 512MB of RAM, and 16GB of built-in storage. It runs its own custom-built operating system on top of the Android kernel, and is capable of running Android apps. The Wi-Fi only version costs $300, while the Wi-Fi + 3G model costs $400.

At the time of this writing, parts of Fusion Garage's website were live. However, if you were looking to purchase the Grid10 tablet, you were met with a note saying that the company is currently "running out of stock."

Unhappy Customers

If Fusion Garage is really gone, it's leaving behind a bunch of dissatisfied customers--at least, if several posts to an unofficial Fusion Garage forum are anything to go by.

Over at The JooJoo Forum, a user with the handle sladuh claims that, two weeks after requesting an exchange for a faulty Grid10 device, Fusion Garage gave a cryptic reply saying that the company was "facing issues:"

"We have not replied to your email because of some issues faced by the company," the email allegedly read. "Please do hold on for an update on the refund issues you are having. We apologized [sic] for this unacceptable but avoidable error."

Another user called cyberkylian claims that Fusion Garage did not reply to his request for a refund. Cyberkylian also claims he was charged $32 for shipping, even though the website claimed to offer free shipping. At least one U.S.-based customer also claims their Grid10 order was still pending five weeks after they purchased the device online.

Fusion Garage did not immediately respond to PCWorld's request for comment.

Client No More

Meanwhile, Fusion Garage is having problems holding onto its U.S. representation, according to reports. According to The Verge, public relations firm McGrath Power will no longer be representing Fusion Garage. McGrath Power did not immediately respond PCWorld's request for comment.

Even the law firm representing Fusion Garage in its ongoing legal battle with TechCrunch may have abandoned the device maker. On Sunday, Michael Arrington posted an excerpt from court documents showing that law firm Quinn Emanuel is asking to withdraw as Fusion Garage's legal representation because of "non-payment of attorneys' fees and associated costs and a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship."

Fusion Garage has been a controversial company in its three-year history. The company partnered with TechCrunch around 2008 to produce a touch tablet dubbed the CrunchPad. But Fusion Garage later severed its relationship with TechCrunch and launched the tablet on its own in late 2009 as the JooJoo. The JooJoo was eclipsed by the iPad in early 2010.

Fusion Garage later withdrew the JooJoo from the market to design a new product, finally relaunching in August with the Grid10. But the Grid10, at least so far, appears to be meeting the same fate as its predecessor. Engadget called the Grid10 "crude and clunky" and The Wall Street Journal said the Grid10 was "clever and innovative" but "hobbled by glitches."

In an October blog post, Fusion Garage CEO Chandrasekar Rathakrishnan apologized for the Grid10's shortcomings and promised to do better. "Stay tuned. We will deliver," he said.

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