Chandra Rathakrishnan, CEO of Fusion Garage, hosted an intimate event yesterday afternoon to introduce a new tablet experience unto the world. The creator of the failed JooJoo tablet (2009) is back and hopes to regain consumer faith with his second attempt at creating a new kind of post-PC device. Rathakrishnan ran a lengthy and expensive viral marketing campaign leading up to yesterday’s unveiling; he invented the faux company TabCo (short for Tablet Company) and posted viral videos at the site WhoIsTabCo.com. The campaign had the public at large buzzing about who might be behind TabCo. Now that we know it’s Fusion Garage, journey downward to learn more about the forthcoming products and decide if the hype was worth it.
The term “Grid” has been stamped on all the new products coming out of Fusion Garage. Let’s start by detailing the Grid 10. The 10.1-inch tablet has a high resolution of 1366 x 768, it’s powered by a 1.2GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, and contains 512MB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Other specs include: a front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, MicroSD expansion slot, quad-band GSM & 3G radios, a Micro SIM card slot, a proprietary docking port, 4 sensors (GPS/AGPS, 3 axis gyroscope, accelerometer, and ambient light), a built-in mic, and a 3.5mm stereo jack. It measures 274.2 x 173.5 x 13.9mm and weights around 690g. So the hardware is nice. But as Rathakrishnan points out it’s the software that will help differentiate this product from Apple’s iPad and other popular tablets out there.
The Grid 10 runs the GridOS. Technically this new OS is a form of Android, but it doesn’t look or act like Google’s widespread OS. Like Apple built upon UNIX to create a brand new Mac OS experience, Fusion Garage is building on the strong Android kernel to invent something that’s entirely different from what people are used to. In an interview with Engadget Rathakrishnan said, “We took the [Android] kernel and completely branched out. This is no re-skin. This is a complete change from what Android is. It was stable, and it was in a good position for us to leverage and build on top of it.”
So how does it work? When you power up the Grid 10 you are presented with a different kind of lock screen. Instead of swiping to unlock you literally “sign in” by drawing a signature with your fingertip. Once you’re in you’re presented with–you guessed it–a grid-like UI populated with your apps. When you download an app it gets placed on a square and you are free to move it around the “infinite” grid wherever you like. You can also group apps together by placing them next to one another. When a folder is created an icon is created between them; when touched it will expand or collapse the group of apps depending on its state. In the top right corner of the UI there’s a small interactive map that presents a full view of all your apps and groups that exist on the grid; touch and drag your finger on the map to quickly navigate around the home screen.
What else? The browser allows for chromeless and split-screen browsing. Cycle through open tabs via an intuitive carousel that pops up when you need it. When you select a word The Wheel appears and it “delivers automatic search recommendations and information because it understands the definition of the highlighted word.” For example, if you highlight the word “Tron” the OS will understand it is the title of a movie and recommend you purchase the DVD within a contextual menu. Rathakrishnan touts GridOS as a smart OS and predictive features like The Wheel are baked into all facets of the UI. Also demoed at the unveiling was Grid Desktop. Once this software is installed on your PC or Mac, Grid 10 users can easily transfer music, videos, and photos from their computer to their tablet. Lastly, GridOS can run Android apps but you’ll have to find them elsewhere (i.e. Amazon’s Appstore). It was also announced that the Gridshop will surface in the fall and provide users with another place to discover and download apps.
The second piece of hardware revealed was the Grid 4. This 4-inch smartphone has a 800 x 480 resolution, it’s powered by a Qualcomm MSM8255 chipset, and contains 512MB of RAM and 16GB of storage. Other specs include: a back-facing 5 megapixel camera with LED flash, autofocus, and it can do 720p video recording, a front-facing 0.3 megapixel cam for video calls, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, MicroSD expansion slot, quad-band GSM & tri-band 3G radios, a Micro SIM card slot and Micro USB connector, 6 sensors (GPS/AGPS, 3 axis gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light, magnetometer, and proximity), a built-in mic, and a 3.5mm stereo jack. It measures 22.4(h) x 63.9(w) x 9.6(d) mm and weighs about 37g. It runs the same GridOS as the tablet, only made miniature for the smaller screen size. A neat ability was demoed: if you start watching a movie on the Grid 10 you can resume exactly where you left off on the Grid 4, and vise versa. Rathakrishnan promises that the Grid tablet and smartphone will interact with each other in other ways when they launch.
Pricing and availability. The Grid 10 tablet will release on September 15 in two models: WiFi-only ($499) and WiFi+3G ($599). They are available for preorder today through Amazon. The Grid 4 smartphone will release Q4 2011 for $399 unlocked. Carriers haven’t been specified yet. And get this: if you happen to be a sad owner of the JooJoo, Fusion Garage will ship you a Grid 10 at no cost!
So what’s the bottom line here? Rathakrishnan’s Fusion Garage has an uphill battle to climb. It’s got to prove itself a worthy competitor and that’s going to be hard to accomplish following the disastrous launch JooJoo. But I will say this: Rathakrishnan successfully got the word out about the Grid products through viral marketing and a promoted Twitter hashtag. He also managed to wow the industry with his unique take on the Android kernel. His philosophy is forward-moving, that’s for sure. He knows the iPad rules and that most of the Android tablet offerings are less than stellar. And that is why he is attempting to elevate what Android is capable of with an intuitive OS. From what I’ve seen so far, the Grid products won’t make a shink in Apple’s armor, but it should help motivate tablet and smartphone manufacturers push their Android experiences a bit further.