Asus already has a strong rep for producing kit that challenges the expectations of gadget fans. But its latest smartphone/tablet hybrid, the Asus PadFone, is surely its boldest attempt yet at redefining what a portable smart device should look like. Simply put, it involves a 4.3-inch Android smartphone being docked into a 10.1-inch tab. The tablet itself cannot work alone, simply acting as a way for the phone to become a fully fledged slate.
The Taiwanese tech giant has already suggested that the device will come with Android Ice Cream Sandwich under the hood when it’s released at the end of 2011. This certainly makes sense seeing as it couldn’t use Gingerbread for the smartphone section and Honeycomb for the tablet. Ice Cream’s convergent powers are essentially being manifested in this new piece of hardware from Asus. But however smart it looks, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is a gimmick.
Motorola is already trying something similar with its excellent Atrix, although the key difference is that it uses physical keyboards and the like to make it more of a trad computer. Just who is going to buy a phone with a tablet dock? This is the kind of thing seen in futuristic patents, but never released because companies feel the idea is too impractical.
Asus is clearly trying to corner headlines early, but with no definite release date and a total lack of information on specs and final hardware details, it’s easy to be cynical about whether this will ever really hit shelves. And even if it does, will it really be on time?
That aside, it’s quite easy to see why this could work too. That’s largely down to Android’s bolstered multimedia prowess. The idea of renting a film on your phone from the new Android Movie service and then docking it to your tablet to watch is very appealing.
It could also mean buying tablet specific games without having to buy a separate tablet to play them on. Add greater screen real estate for emailing and messaging while hunkered down on a train or plane, and the PadFone suddenly looks very decent indeed.
What the PadFone could end up becoming is some kind of trailblazer: a nascent idea that a company with greater experience in the smartphone and tablet space could easily develop into something with wider appeal. Right now, it does look very gimmicky, but it’s hard to deny the potential of such devices in the future.
Apple is unlikely to go down this route, as it goes against its philosophy of simplicity. But don’t be surprised to see someone like HTC or LG tries something along these lines in the future.