What’s the point of the Asus Transformer (& why you should be watching Asus)

I got into a discussion on twitter earlier today with a friend, and it inspired this post. He didn't understand the design of the eee Transformer, Asus' premium Android tablet. That's understandable; if all you know about the Transformer is what you read in the gadget blog  headlines then you missed the facts of what it really is. You have to actually put your hands on it before you realize what Asus did here.

First, let me list some of the current eeeProducts. (If you want to understand the Transformer, it first needs to be in context.) It wasn't until I gathered these details into one place that I realized quite what they meant. Note that this isn't all the eeeProducts listed on the Asus website, just the ones I'm familiar with.

When you line up the product names (not always mentioned in complete detail), the unique nature of each model should be pretty obvious:

  • Asus eee Reader DR900 (ebook reader w\9" Sipix screen)
  • Asus eee Note ea800 (digital notepad w\8" unique LCD screen)
  • Asus eee Pad Transformer (Android netbook convertible disguised as a 10" tablet)
  • Asus eee Slider (Android tablet convertible)
  • Asus eee Slate (Win7 tablet PC)

Do you see how each one has very different specs and how they're each a one-off product alone in a niche? That's because each of the devices listed above is an experiment. Much like the original eee 701, Asus is experimenting to find the new product niches, uses, and abilities. In fact, I would bet that the eeeProduct line will be where you find a lot of Asus experiments.

It's not surprising that few understand what the eee Pad Transformer really is; after all, it's being marketed as a tablet.  (The keyboard component is even called a Mobile Dock, for reasons unknown.) Yes, it's a very nice tablet, but it's also a very nice netbook convertible.

Add the keyboard component and you have 16 hours battery life in a netbook that costs only $50 more than an iPad. It also has a heavily customized version of Android v3.0 Honeycomb. The trackpad, function keys, and other parts of the keyboard are so thoroughly integrated that it clearly wasn't an afterthought. The keyboard is part of the original design.

I suspect that Asus made the eee Pad Transformer not just to release a premium tablet. I think it's also an attempt to create a new hybrid tablet/netbook niche. Yes, netbooks are dead, but if you combine the 2 niches then you have a new usability model. And like the eee701, Asus got into the new niche before anyone else.

BTW, you could slap a keyboard on an iPad in order to get similar functionality, but it wouldn't work this well. An iPad with a keyboard is still an iPad with a keyboard; the Transformer is a netbook convertible.

So if we could go back to the list, I'm not really sure that each of the eeeProducts are actually experiments. But I would give that label to the eeeNote, eeePad, and eeeSlider.

I also suspect that the eeeReader was an experiment in a niche that for the most part died before the eeeReader was released.Whoops. But that's what happens with experiments; they don't always succeed.

This, folks, is why I am watching Asus with anticipation. They keep doing interesting things.

About Nate Hoffelder (11373 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

16 Comments on What’s the point of the Asus Transformer (& why you should be watching Asus)

  1. Remember the Compaq TC1000?
    Asus did.
    Putting a battery in the keyboard slice is a very good idea; it balances the weight beter than the TC1000 could.
    I’d like to see them try it with a Wintel design.

  2. I have had my Transformer for about 2 weeks now and will probably put all but one of my other computers away. It is an amazing instrument.

  3. A couple of years back I bought an Asus Eee PC 701-SD in an end-of-line sale for £99 and it’s a great little machine — what’s really useful is that you can boot all sorts of OSs from an SD card. The perception at the time was that the Eee PC had to be junk because of the low price, dispelled at once when you got your hands on one.

  4. Did you notice the TouchBook from Always Innovating, which came out a couple of years ago? Very similar to the Eee Transformer really. I was tempted but it just wasn’t quite compelling enough.
    http://www.alwaysinnovating.com/products/touchbook.htm
    They’re now selling a 2nd generation device which is a bit behind on the CPU front but has some other nice features.

    • Is that still for sale? I thought it had vanished. This is the first I’d heard of it since i don’t know when (I’d actually forgotten about it).

      You’re right; clearly the Touchbook inspired the eee Transformer.

  5. My husband got this after quite a bit of thought and he’s completely in love.

    I have an iPad. I am jealous of his Transformer.

  6. When it was announced it looked like a gimmick, but, in retrospect, it is obvious that ASUS (master of the netbook) would pull off the netbook / tablet hybrid.

    Personally, I’m looking forward to the eee Pad Slider and the PadFone. The Slider will be a different take on the hybrid, so I’m interested in the compare and contrast. Meanwhile, the PadFone still looks crazy, but I’ve said that before…

  7. Separately, I don’t think ASUS has a heavily-customized version of Honeycomb. Personally, my Transformer “feels stock” (like my (past) G1 and (current) G2). More importantly, ASUS wouldn’t have been able to turn around the 3.1 and 3.2 updates as quickly as they did if they had heavy customizations. After all, they beat everyone but Motorola (who has special access) and even beat Motorola to the worldwide update rollout.

    I suspect what’s really going on is that Android’s architecture is shining. The customizations ASUS needs for the Transformer are deep, but not large. I think ASUS probably pulled them off via things like custom input methods and device drivers, without having to overhaul the rest of the OS.

  8. I just got my Transformer and was disappointed that it didn’t turn into a robot. But other than that – Love it.
    I’ve been waffling back and forth over what kind of tablet to buy, they are a significant investment, and then Apple pulled the greedy move with Kindle etc. and I decided to go Android.
    I travel a lot and the laptop isn’t that easy to use on a plane, I look forward to having my books and games available all the way to Europe.

  9. but wasn’t the transformer recently returned with a screen flaw? doesn’t that say something? seems like this entry would result from keeping the tablet, not sending it back….or is it a testament that the post survived a returned product?

    • I took it back and swapped the defective one with a replacement. And yes, that is a testimony to the quality of the design; for a lot of devices i would have instead gotten a refund.

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