The Asus PadFone is a Glimpse of the Future

by Ben Bajarin   |   July 15th, 2011

As a part of my work as an industry analyst I do a great deal of thinking about the future. Many of the projects we get pulled into and asked to add analysis on are related to the distant not the near future. This happens to be one of the things I love most about my job, thinking about the future and imaging what the world of technology will be like 5 years out.

Pat Moorhead wrote an article yesterday highlighting Why Convertible PC’s Are About To Get Very Popular. I agree these product designs have a place in the market and we will likely see a good deal of hardware experimentation through 2013. I however think another product idea may have much longer staying power.

Without going into too much detail on things I can’t go into much detail on, I want to use the Asus PadFone as an example of a future I think is highly possible. This future is one where the smart phone is the center of our personal connected ecosystem and in essence becomes the brains that power all the other screens in our lives.

We talk a great deal about the “smart screens” which will invade consumers lives and homes. Although it certainly looks like we are heading in this direction, I sometimes ask: “if the smartest screen is in our pocket why couldn’t that device power the others.” Thus eliminating the need to have a high performance CPU in all my screens.

The Asus PadFone is an example of this concept. In Asus’ solution the smart phone is the most important device in the ecosystem because it is the device with the brains. The smart phone has the CPU, the OS and the software. In the PadFone solution the smart phone slips into the tablet thus giving you a two in one solution.

The Motorola Atrix 4G employs a similar idea where the Atrix can be docked with a laptop shell. The laptop shell simply has a battery and a screen and the Atrix provides the rest of the intelligence needed to have a full laptop.

Both of these designs highlight something that I think gives us a glimpse of how our future connected gadgetry may come together. The biggest indicator for this future reality is the trajectory every major semiconductor company is heading in. Namely very small multi-CPU cores performing at very low power consumption levels.

We can envision a future where we could have an eight core processor in our mobile phones. An eight core mobile chipset would be more than adequate to power every potential smart screen we can dream up. In this model you would simply dock your phone into every screen size possible in order to make every screen you own “smart.” Docking your phone to your TV would create a “smart TV” for example. Docking your phone with you car would create a “smart car.” You could also purchase laptop docks, desktop docks, tablet docks, smart mirror docks, smart refrigerator docks, etc.

What’s also interesting about this model is that your phone can also power devices that don’t have screens. In this scenario you would be able to use your smart phone to interact with all your appliances without screens like washer, dryer, coffee pot, and others. We call these specific interactions “micro-experiences” where you use your phone to have experiences with non-screen appliances.

It is obviously way to early to conclude when or if the market could adopt a solution like this. None-the-less it is an interesting future to think about.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • Patrick Moorhead

    I am a big fan of the potential of modularity and have done a lot of experimenting with the current Atrix/LapDock as well as adding keyboards and mice to tablets. The biggest hurdle will be multi-modal OS and software, or the devices ability to “morph” into the proper context. The apps and content need to change based upon screen size and HCI method.

    Here are some analysis I have done and how I would change current designs to address modularity:

    * Tablet as notebook: http://blogs.amd.com/home/2011/05/09/blackberry-playbook-as-modular-desktop-workspace/
    * Phone as notebook: http://blogs.amd.com/home/2011/04/14/45-days-with-the-motorola-atrix-lapdock/
    * Phone as TV DMA: http://blogs.amd.com/home/2011/04/16/45-days-with-the-motorola-atrix-hd-multimedia-dock/
    * Tablet as workspace: http://blogs.amd.com/home/2011/03/22/the-motorola-xoom-a-notebook-replacement-android-honeycomb/

  • Anonymous

    Yes a lot needs to happen for this model to work. You hit the nail on the head with the software. I sort of wonder if a Web App world would make this model more than a native app world. What do you think?

    The premise is since your apps would also need to be modal, it would be hard to store three + apps on the same device so those apps could work with the different screen sizes. But if it lived in the cloud that is a different story I think.

    I like this term modular computing. I’m going to start using it.

    • Patrick Moorhead

      Great point on the potential of web apps. As I outlined in my blogs, even apps-apps :-) are moving to multi-modal design, driven by the need for better developer efficiency. I’ve seen Android and IOS dev guidelines on how to program once for multiple environments. So that, combined with web-app approach, could really make this a possibility.

      One thing, though, that needs to be done are things like font-scaling and UI scaling Font scaling needs to be done to compensate for the screen size, resolution, and pixel density. UI scaling needs to be done between HCI methods. Fingers need larger panes and buttons. Mice and keyboard don’t.

  • Bill Jackson

    i too think that this concept has legs, but primarily because one force in the industry will drive people to this. That is the mobile telco’s and their insistence that when I buy 2GB of data for my phone that I not dare share it with my pad, laptop, toaster or whatever. That alone is enough to drive consumers to these “pad phone” type concepts since there they have one monthly data charge and don’t feel taken advantage of by their carrier. is there *really* a reason that the carrier cares that I use my 2GB allocation surfing on my tablet instead of my phone? Consumers are smart and if they see that they have to pay $100 extra to save $30/month, they’re going to do it.

    should the carriers wise up, i can’t see this one with too many legs. If I could have my ipad, iPhone and my iToaster all sharing the same data plan on the AT^&T network, does it really make sense to add all of this complexity? Do I want to have to take my phone out of the pad in order to use it as a phone and not stick a 10″ display up to my ear? All in order to save a couple of bucks of silicon (processor, memory) since a lot of what the phone docks to will still have to come along (screen, battery, possibly GPU, charging circuit, case, etc) AND it makes the design of the device more complex and invariably thicker in a world where thin still dominates.