Sunday, March 11, 2012

Will modular finally click? Asus PadFone. Nice idea, but the pieces are unlikely to fall into place.

Asus PadFone Product Pages >>

MobileBurn Story >>

Is it a smartphone? YES! Is it a tablet? YES! Is it a laptop... Yes, Asus' new PadFone goes for the trinity.

Will modular finally click? Will the smartphone be the center of our computing experiences? The brains behind so many accessories?

I've been following the modular trend for years, and most of the concepts I've seen have bitten off more than they could chew. The general idea is sweet: the mother is a smartphone, the accessories are the offspring. It's an approach that just hasn't worked, and has left many victims in its wake.

Israeli-based modu, for example, had a great idea. A small mobile phone -- the world's smallest by some metrics -- would be the heart of a series of other devices. Users could personalize the features and style of the phone using what modu called "jackets" or enclosures. It was an enticing thought, but the company went bankrupt and sold most of patents to Google, which is an interesting signal as well.

Motorola's ATRIX Laptop Dock docking station turned a Motorola Android smartphone into a laptop. Again, a nice product idea, and one that reached market and has gotten good reviews. I haven't tried it myself, but have spoken to some who have. I'm told it works, but the original $500 price tag of the docking station approached that of a new full-fledged laptop. The economics didn't quite work. (The price of Moto's Laptop Dock has dropped significantly since launch.)

Now enter the Asus PadFone. An Android smartphone that fits sweetly into the back of a rather bulky looking screen, turning it into a tablet. Add in the keyboard accessory and it becomes by definition a laptop. Check the MobileBurn video below for a clarity.

Asus didn't provide pricing information, and this is no small detail. The added complexities of the engineering and the connectors usually mean that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: in other words, it might make little economic sense to the user.

Asus is to be commended for its attempt to differentiate in a market full of look-alike products. At the same time I have to wonder if this isn't a solution searching for a problem which has already found a solution. The annoyances of multi-device ownership are being well addressed by cloud-based services such as Dropbox and robustly well-synced inboxes.

This isn't to say there aren't synergies with this Asus approach. Connectivity comes to mind. But unless the price is right, in this age of smoother multi-device ownership and multi-tasking mentality, I don't see the pieces coming together.

MobileBurn video:

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