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The Asus Padphone is Not the Wave of the Future

I got an interesting comment this morning on my old post about the Palm Foleo that I wanted to share. While I disagree with the comment, it raised an interesting point.

The reader took issue with my point that the Foleo had a number of deficiencies, in particular the fact that it had no email client of its own but instead required  Palm smartphone in order to send and receive emails.

I think you are wrong, they were just light years ahead of its time & poorly marketed.

Dumb display devices that are dependent on a smart phone for processing power, like the Foleo format, will be the norm with in 3 years.

This comment caught my eye because in the past couple days Asus started showing off the PadPhone. I haven’t mentioned it here, but the PadPhone is a smartphone that has an optional tablet accessory. Snap the phone into the socket on the back and you turn  4.3″ phone into a 10″ Android tablet.

Now the PadPhone might not be quite what my reader meant, but it comes close to the concept. The 10″ screen has batteries, ports, and card slots, but it doesn’t have the CPU. That’s in the phone. So the 10″ is in effect a dumb display tethered to a smart device.

My reader sees this as the wave of the future, but I disagree. There are only a handful if devices in this category now, and all the trends seem to be moving in the other direction.

For example, RIM launched the BB PlayBook last year as a tethered device. It had no email client of its own and required that you use either  browser based option (gmail, for example), or get a Blackberry.

RIM corrected this error  few weeks back when they released OS2 for the Playbook. Among other things, it added an email client.  If tethered devices were the right idea, then why did RIM pull back?

But that’s just one example; let’s consider the general trends in hardware and services.

One of the ideas behind a tethered device is that you can cut the hardware costs by eliminating the CPU and other extraneous components. That is not worth the bother anymore.

I have $100 tablets on my desk. Their total parts cost is somewhere under $10 (each). Do you really care enough about that $10 that you’d want to cripple the tablet? I just don’t think it’s worth it.

Another reason to like the dumb display idea is that it eliminated the problem of syncing accounts across multiple devices (at least, that’s why I think the Foleo lacked an email client).

First, I don’t see how that was ever  problem. But even if it were an issue, it’s long since been solved. I regularly sync my email across several gadgets (I forget how many). Pretty much all the online services know how to do that now. Even syncing files isn’t much an issue any more. What with Dropbox and other online storage sites, any truly mobile person has already moved the important stuff online.

Now, I still think that Asus will sell a few PadPhones. But I don’t see this as being the first gadget in a large niche. It’s  specialty device that will suit some users but not all.

There are situations where dumb displays will work, but mobile devices aren’t one. What do you think?

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Karl Green February 28, 2012 um 12:48 pm

The single best reason I can see for the Padphone has to do with how the phone companies sell data. Currently if I have a smart phone and a tablet and I want cellular data on both I have to have two data plans at twice the cost, even though there is very little chance that I will use twice as much data. So until the phone companies allow for data sharing(tethering) without charging extra, the only solution is to 'share' the hardware.

Nate Hoffelder February 28, 2012 um 12:49 pm

Good point. That is why I use a hotspot for my data connection.

Myself February 28, 2012 um 10:05 pm

Yeah, but how many people have hotspots and/or want to sign up for a data plan that isn’t that of their smartphone?

And don’t mention tethering. It kills battery life and besides most people don’t even know it exists. On the other hand, working with the Padfone would have the opposite effect, increasing the battery life of the phone.

And syncing between devices is definitely more difficult than using one: yeah, yeah, Gmail is easy. But what about game data from Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds? It’s impossible as far as I know. What about different applications that you may have in one device or not in another? What about homescreen and icon arrangement? What about settings? It seems to me that managing two devices is more complicated than managing one.

I think the Padfone idea is spot on, but even if it fails, Asus deserves my congrats for thinking outside the box. It will all come down to pricing, I think: if they can sell the Station for $300, it’s a win.

ferrigno February 28, 2012 um 1:09 pm

I think if your phone rings while it is in the tab and you are using it, it’s a big mess.

Xhara February 28, 2012 um 4:35 pm

It comes with a pen which works as bluetooth headphone. So you can still make and take calls.

ferrigno February 28, 2012 um 1:12 pm

Otherwise, one could go to a job meeting with the powerpoint slides in the tab and forget the phone at home.

No no, I want a phone AND a tab working indipendently.

Daniel April 10, 2012 um 9:32 am

Not correct. There is no storage on the tab. You always have your phone with you. So you always have those powerpoint slides of yours with you.

emanno February 28, 2012 um 3:02 pm

Once I met with a color device for reading books Ectaco jetBook Color on the Triton, I can not seriously to any TFT gadgets. This is thanks to your site! I’m from Russia and I love to read. Even did a little review of the presentation on his blog –
Sorry for bad English, I use Google translator

Larry Weber February 29, 2012 um 3:04 am

I respectfully disagree.

The Padphone is what I need and want, it pulls my need for a phone and for a Pad together. It’s not Apple, which means that I can do what I need (not what Apple wants to give me) and runs Android ( I can run all of the applications I need and currently use.) It does not have to be cloud based (better security than Cotton Candy) and does not have the provider restrictions of Nook, Kindle, Kobo, and Aluratek.

The Android phone (I am limited to my current droid and Froyo software is already replaced my netbook (I haven’t used my netbook since I got my Droid) and this gives me the best of both worlds. I hope this is the wave of the future.

If Verizon does not support/allow the Padphone. Verizon will lose a customer they’ve had for over 12 years. Please don’t bother to flame me for not agreeing, it’s just my take on a superb offering.


Nate Hoffelder March 7, 2012 um 8:16 am

But what do you do if one part dies? Replace it? By the time that happens there will be better tablets out there. I wouldn’t want to be locked into an older device simply because it was integrated with my phone.

Sweetpea March 7, 2012 um 2:26 pm

Considering the speed at which people replace their toys, I doubt that will be a problem.

eebrah March 12, 2012 um 4:43 pm

If Asus are using the standard USB and HDMI ports and protocols, them that may be much less of a problem than you think.

I personally hope that they are using those standards and that no extra juju is needed to get a device working

Theo March 12, 2012 um 7:06 pm

Biggups to Asus for thinking outside the box. That’s number 1. It’s truly an effort to complement the mobile citizen, and for that I commend them. I may really look into getting this… However. How many phones has Asus made? When the spine of your mobile body goes down you’ll be paralyzed. Also, can I be on the net and phone at the same time? If I’m not mistaken that’s a network-specific issue. But it’s also a major reduction of functionality. Still, I like Asus and how they think.

Deon March 13, 2012 um 10:23 am

Well I saw that it will be on a GSM network. If AT&T picks it up, you will have no problem being on the phone and Internet at the same time. I love the concept of this device, but my problem is I didn’t see anything about 4G. I hope it has it because I do not want to be on 3G trying to stream videos 🙁

Master O’Disaster April 9, 2012 um 10:53 am

I really like the PadPhone concept. (I guess the "PhonePad" name must be trademarksed)

I am tempted. There are some very nice benefits to this design, but there are some significant minuses, too. It certainly has geek-cred.

The biggest minus for me is this: Unless Asus has developed a standardized form factor/interface to the tablet portion that will be supported for many years (by at least Asus, and hopefully other manufacturers), I would be spending a LOT of money that could easily be thrown away in 2 years – or less – whenever my phone gets replaced by breakage / loss /desire. When my phone breaks, I could be throwing away the tablet screen (and maybe keyboard, too), just because Asus came up with a slightly different PadPhone design in the future.

Now if the screen is relatively cheap (say, $99), I could live with that. If it is $300, it ain’t gonna happen for me unless upgrade paths are available.

Kay April 17, 2012 um 9:07 pm

I love the PAdPhone concept. I hate having to download apps to two devices. All my ebook, e magazines, pictures and videos are in one place. (Hopefully we can schedule a back up of the data off the phone) Best thing is that i can play apps on my phone and carry on playing them when i have my tablet. People hardly forget their phones so it means you will always have your stuff with you, tablet in hand or not. I really can’t wait to get one. Might be worried about its performance spec, but love the concept of the padphone. Much cheaper than having an expensive phone and expensive tablet and your apps and documents needs to be sync all the time.

Jake Baker April 22, 2012 um 5:28 pm

This may be a trend that the author of this article has failed to pick up on. Not only is Asus using phones to power bigger tablet format displays, but Motorola is doing the same as well. I currently own the Atrix 4G which can be docked into a portable tablet like display much like Asus. It too can receive/send calls and texts. And without the phone, it is nothing more than a dumb display. The only difference is Motorola ran a special flavor of linux when docked. Now that ICS is out, its quite possible that they may update the atrix and several other phones to work in much the same fashion as the PadPhone. Indeed, this approach would seem more useful than the half baked linux run in its own partition of memory space.

Nate Hoffelder April 22, 2012 um 5:36 pm

Motorola has (I think) one Atrix dock and it was released over a year ago. How many phones & tablets do they have that aren’t docks?

The thing is, 1 product isn’t a trend. It’s an experiment that might not be repeated. It won’t be a trend until the 3rd or so product.

Kermonk May 25, 2012 um 5:29 pm

"For example" the RIM playbook was bad, and isn’t comparable.

Why is this called a "Padfone" – because it is THE device. It is one thing. People are not going to think about them as hardware or devices. It is where your data is – it is where your life is.
You can get the tablet extension, but that is not a device – it is an extra – you take your data and put it in the bigger screen. If you want a keyboard you add that –

But it is one thing. A phone. (With some extras)
You have your data in one place.

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