The iPad is 2 years ahead of the competition and seems to be holding that lead. Eventually the market will mature and I won’t care about the remaining little differences, but at the moment the 2-year gulf is huge.

I’m a fairly new Apple hater, due mostly to their anti open source stance, which I find quite ironic given OSX’s open source roots. I used to be an Apple fan before before they became dominant and started tightening their ecosystem, becoming more like a Walmart in their business practices. I’m resolutely not getting an iPad and despairing at my remaining options. I have a cheap 7″ Android 1.6 device and a joojoo which is browser-only device with a custom skin over Ubuntu. I had high hopes for the joojoo but there were too many issues for it compete with the iPad, let alone being a good mass market product.

I’ve researched lots of other products but all have at least one deal breaker gap (the Notion Ink Adam, the WeTab, the ExoPC, the EeePad, the Blackberry’s Playbook, the Xoom, Galaxy Tab, and the HP TouckPad). I’d have to include the joojoo among these even though I actually bought it. The maker, Fusion Garage, made it clear a year ago they were end-of-lifeing the joojoo only 6 months, well before all the bugs were worked out (most of the issues were software based). Fusion Garage moved on to focus on some new tablet that wouldn’t be anything like the one I’d shelled out $500 for, leaving me feeling bitter.

Fusion Garage today unveiled their new product, the Grid 10. It has some nice basic hardware specs: Tegra II dual core 1.2GHz, 10.1″ 720P resolution, 16GB memory, SD card slot, SIM card slot, front facing camera, GPS, WiFi/Bluetooth, etc. There are some hardware holes, such as not specifying battery life, requires a dongle for HDMI or USB, no rear camera, no mention of Gorilla glass, etc. On the software side its an interesting experiment: a home grown UI on top of Android (probably on a 2.x frame) with various custom apps for basic work (contacts, messaging, music, video, etc), no physical buttons, and deep integration with Bing and Amazon. They intend to use the Amazon market for Android apps and have their own app store for native apps. All for the same price as the old one – $500.

On the face of it I’m quite skeptical about their customized experience. As a Google fan I love the existing integration of gmail, Google Maps and G+ in my phone. I’ve had poor search result experiences with Bing the few times I’ve used it where the top spots seem to be going to the highest bidder and not the highest quality link.

But there was one all important nugget in today’s release event: Everyone who bought a joojoo gets a new Grid 10 for free!

How do I feel about the Grid 10 now? I LOVE IT! I think. What, what? Apparently “Free” has a much greater psychological impact on me than I would have thought. I now want to go through all the materials I can find about the Grid 10, with an eye to how I can maximize what does as opposed to a critical analysis of its shortcomings. I even want to sign up to get the developer’s toolkit and see what cool apps I can write as native Grid 10 apps, just in case the thing takes off.

In about 40 days (best guess but I could be very wrong) I should receive it. I don’t know if it will be the WiFi or 3G model (they should send 3G models to their ambassadors) but either way is fine. In the next few weeks and once I get the device I’m going to have to occasionally step outside of myself and see if  “free”  is continuing to alter my mindset.