Does the Asus PadFone/Tablet combo represent the future of personal computing?

All of us know our smartphones are actually powerful personal computers that fit into our pocket. I have been in the PC industry for 35 years and my first PC had an 8088 Intel processor in it and sported a 4.77 MHZ processor speed. The processor in my iPhone 6 Plus runs at 1.4 GHz and has two billion transistors in it.

One of the more interesting comparisons of computer speeds often uses the Apollo Mission computer in 1969 vs the computing power in smartphones today.

The folks at The Daily Grate actually compared how much more powerful your phone is compared to the computers that tracked ALL the Apollo missions and flew men through the narrowest event windows while guiding a tin can in the infinite reaches of space:

Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC)

Dimensions: 24 x 12.5 x 6.5 inches

Weight: 70 pounds

Processor speed: 1 MHz

Memory: 2,048 words (32,768 bits or roughly 4kB)

Display: Seven-segment numeric

Price: $150,000 (est.)

Apple iPhone 5s

Dimensions: 4.87 inches x 2.31 inches

Weight: 3.95 ounces

Processor speed: 1.3GHz, dual-core

Memory: 64GB

Display: 4-inch diagonal Multi-Touch display, 1136 x 640 pixel resolution at 326 ppi

I am not sure if the Apollo crew actually understood how underpowered the computers were that guided them to the moon but thankfully they did not question it and made their historic journeys and came back in one piece.

However, the idea we have this kind of computing power in our pocket is, I believe, a significant fact and one that could make a smartphone the most important computing device we have and eventually be used to power all types of personal computing products.

About 23 years ago, I wrote a research paper on what I called “a vision for modular computing”. I have had to travel a great deal in my career and, in the early days, I carried around portable computers that looked like Singer sewing machines. Once clamshell based laptops came out, I started carrying them but even they weighed six to nine lbs and had short battery lives. But I envisioned (actually, longed for) a time when I could carry a small modular computing core with me and plug in to a TV in my hotel room or in to a connector on a plane where a keyboard would be on the flip side of a seat tray and the screen was on the backside of the seat in front of me. Or plug in to a connector at my office where it would be connected to a display and keyboard. You get the idea. I wanted the full power of a personal computer in a small device that could connect to all types of stationary devices. Now I know I was describing what smartphones have become today although they have the screen and keyboards built in as part of their design.

In one of the more interesting products I have seen come to market this year, Asus created something that embodies that original vision I had for modular computing. The Asus PadFone X Mini is a unique product that includes a smartphone that slides into a tablet and powers the actual tablet. The idea is all of the intelligence and computer power is based in the smartphone and the tablet becomes kind of a slave that mirrors what is on the smartphone. The tablet has a 7″ screen as well as another battery in it. That means you can power it off of the phone’s or the tablet’s battery or can charge both at the same time. You can even charge the phone in the docked tablet.

However, if you undock the phone from the tablet it does nothing. All you get is a blank screen since the actual computer power comes from the smartphone when it is docked. Here is a video of how the docking works.

Actually, this is one of the great bargains I have seen for the holidays. The smartphone and tablet together cost $199 without a contract. It works with AT&T’s Go prepaid program where you can get unlimited talk and text for $60 a month. The unlimited texting covers 2 GB of data using ultra fast LTE and all other unlimited data uses the slower 2G. They also have a cheaper plan for $45 that has 1 GB of data using LTE and all other unlimited data using 2G. This is one of the best combo deals you can buy.

But the idea the computing power is in the smartphone and can be used to power other things like a tablet is quite interesting and very modular in design. I am hearing another angle on this in the works coming out of the China supply chain that takes a smartphone and lets you pop it into a laptop clamshell design and use the smartphone as the core CPU. It mirrors the OS and the apps on a 12″ laptop screen with a full keyboard.

Motorola had a product like this on the market a few years back called the Atrix Smartphone with LapDock. However, it never took off for a number of reasons, the main one being smartphones in 2011 weren’t powerful enough to actually deliver a full laptop experience. Even though Motorola was early with this concept, now that smartphones are getting as powerful as some of the laptops on the market today, this concept of using a smartphone docked to a laptop shell is being tossed around in design shops in Asia. We could see new versions of this idea sometime in 2015.

Since I have been researching this concept for decades, I still think this idea has a lot of potential. What Asus delivers with the PadFone could just be scratching the surface of this design concept. It would not surprise me if, someday, my original modular computing vision finally plays itself out in ways that make the smartphone the center of our computing experience as it becomes docked into tablets, laptops and desktops that power our future computing experiences.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

12 thoughts on “Does the Asus PadFone/Tablet combo represent the future of personal computing?”

  1. Docking stations turning laptops into “desktops” didn’t do well, either. The closest we have today is connecting an external monitor and keyboard to the laptop directly or though an interface. It’s different but similar concept either way, but one is without the “transformer” mode. There may be something if it can be done either by a cable or even wirelessly, no “docking” needed. Just like having my laptop screen available while connected to a monitor is handy, so, too, could having the phone screen available be handy.


  2. The fundamental problem with this concept is that you are limiting your computing power to what is available on a phone sized device. The minute you discover a need to do something on your carry-everywhere computer that requires more than a watt or so of computing power, you’re in a world of hurt (quite literally if you have the device in your pocket at the time).

    Secondary problem is what happens when you’re out in the field and the place you’re at doesn’t have a screen and keyboard for you to pair the device with — unless you can be 100% certain that everywhere you go there will be keyboards and screens available for you to pair with, then you have to take a screen and keyboard with you, and at that point why not just take along a laptop with synching to your phone.

    With PC laptops having finally gotten Apple’s thin& light religion, i really don’t see the point of getting a device like this when you can just slip a tablet with keyboard or a macbook air-style laptop into your bag and be done. Seriously, under what real-world circumstances is someone going to be wanting to go somewhere for work and not take along any bag at all?

      1. Correct answer! Compare the cost of a laptop built without a brain vs one with a brain. You can have a laptop and a phone that shares one brain between them, or for just a little more, you can have a laptop and a phone each with its own brain. I bet the economics of it all makes the two-brain solution the hands-down winner.

  3. “All of us know our smartphones are actually powerful personal computers that fit into our pocket.”

    Some people still argue that smartphones, especially iPhones, are not powerful PCs. I’m not one of those people, but I do hear that argument quite often.

  4. As appealing as this sounds, there are number of problems with this. For example, you can not easily use your phone when it is docked (this was amongst the problems with the Atrix). There are probably ways to address this, but none that I have seen yet. Also, such a device would have to compete with tablets that only need a keyboard to achieve the same effect. You also have to compete with Chrome books and other inexpensive laptop.

    I don’t know if you remember, but back in the early 90’s there was a product called The Brick made by, I think, a British company, It was a computer about the size of a brick that you would carry around with you and the would plug into a keyboard and monitor. It was very portable, especially for the time, but useless without an external keyboard and monitor. I don’t think it did very well.

  5. The problem is not your concept as much as the market. I’m sure there’ll be people like you who would find this kind of computing useful or even desirable but I think these are not Apple’s target customers.

  6. Tim, I think the laptop clamshell design is a brilliant idea. One possibility might be (eventually available) wireless connexion, which would lessen the problem of the smartphone’s main purpose. However, as it is now, one could have both a laptop and phone which would certainly be useful on the road or even out for a coffee. This could possibly answer the problem of reading work files, one’s correspondence and possibly enjoying a flick on the go. It certainly is an inexpensive solution, especially with a keyboard to boot. Compared to a MacBook, underpowered it may well be, but practical for writing and study, I could see this working very well for university students.

    But would Apple be willing to add this to its line? Maybe not, as mightn’t it cut into MacBook sales? But then that is where third parties come into play.

  7. I’m not sure what these devices achieve.
    – price is the same if not higher than separate devices
    – choice is more limited, and there are no standards. Which also means, when you want to change one piece, you’ve got to change all of them. My tablet is 3 yo (I’ll probably get a 12-13″ one next year, if I didn’t want something bigger, I’d keep it for the foreseeable future); I change phones at least every year. A BT keyboard/dock such as the new Logitech tri-device one with a groove also probably has a much longer useful life
    – traveling volume is the same, assuming you keep your phone in your pocket
    – functionality is rather more limited: I often use my phone while a movie is playing on my tablet, or have reference stuff up on my tablet or phone while using my laptop..
    – risk is higher: if the phone breaks/gets lost during a trip, you lose everything. When that happened to me a while back, I still had my tablet to fall back on.
    – job done by this specific feature is murky. Allow to switch instantly between an app on the phone and the same on a tablet ? I mostly don’t use the same apps on both devices ?

  8. I prefer a different approach entirely. There is a platform more portable than a phone with the screen real-estate of a desktop. Use two 4K OLEDs in a pair of glasses worn in the lower third of the visual field. The battery is built into a belt for all day use. The belt buckle is a trackpad with eye-tracking an option. Glasses contain just 2 screens for 3D and gyro and compass. CPU(s), GPU, RAM and Flash, WiFi, BlueTooth are in a tiny box clipped to the belt power rail. Cellular is by hot spot WiFi eliminating the need for different model for different networks. The breakthrough needed is making 4K micro displays with prescription fresnel lenses in contact with the OLEDs. Camera(s) (3D) are wireless and separate to avoid Google Glass style rejection/violence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *