The PadFone is not the future

I’ve been pondering the existence of devices like the Asus PadFone and PadFone 2 recently.

Not really convertible devices, not really hybrid devices, they’re an electronic centaur. Like an Amphicar or a Taylor Aerocar, the PadFone devices compromise their ability to be one good device by instead being two less than great devices.

I haven’t found a good description of devices like the PadFone – I refer to them as “form integrated”. One device is a dumb terminal and relies on the brain of the other.

While a novel approach, the reality is that form integrated devices are a bit nonsensical. Imagine a phone that integrates with a tablet, or a tablet that integrates into a larger display. To really work well, the devices must be acquired together, and if one breaks, it kills the other (lose your Fone from the PadFone, and you’ve got a PadBrick).

You also wind up with devices where the phone must be overpowered in order to drive the tablet (wasting battery) or a weak phone that results in a gutless tablet when docked.

Rather than this “host/parasite” model of the form integrated approach, I would personally much rather see a smart pairing of devices. Pairing of my iPhone, iPad, and Mac, or pairing of a Windows Phone, Windows 8 tablet, and a Windows 8 desktop.

What do I mean by smart pairing? I sit down at my desktop, and it sees my phone automatically over Bluetooth or the like. No docking, no need to even remove it from my pocket. Pair it once, and see all the content on it. Search for “Rob”, and see email that isn’t even on the desktop. Search for “Windows Blue”, and it opens documents that are on the iPhone.

The Documents directory on my desktop should be browsable from my phone, too (when on the same network or if I elect to link them over the Internet).

Content, even if it is stored in application silos, as Windows Store applications and iOS/OS X applications do, should be available from any device.

I think it would also be ideal if applications could keep context wherever I go. Apple’s iCloud implementation begins to do this. You can take a document in Pages across the Mac, iPad, and iPhone, and access the document wherever you are. Where Asus is creating a hardware-based pairing between devices, Apple is creating a software-based pairing, through iCloud. It is still early, and rough, but I personally like that approach better.

My belief is that people don’t want to dock devices and have one device be the brain of another. They don’t want to overpay for a pair of devices that aren’t particularly good at either role and instead will pay a premium for two great devices, especially if they integrate together seamlessly and automatically.

Much as I believe the future of automotive electronics is in “smartphone software integrated” head units rather than overly-complex integrated computing built into the car, the future of ubiquitous computing lies in a fabric of smart devices that work together, with the smartphone most likely being the key “brain” among them. Not with its CPU driving everything else, but instead with it’s storage being pervasively available wherever you are, without needing to be docked or plugged in.

3 comments

  1. I’d like to see a sort of universal ‘cloud’—-other options: being able to pause live TV to stream a video someone just sent to your phone/email/social network account, etc.

    The problem I see, looking at this, is that–basically–the guts of the internet were invented by government employees and people working on grants and for universities. Even the pioneering work done at Bell Labs and PARC, although done by for-profit companies, was not done with the goal of delivering immediately marketable products. All this stuff was done to solve problems, not to deliver profit.

    Now, what you see is companies that love to talk about standards compatibility when it suits their business to do so, but who will just as quickly abandon standards if they can obtain a competitive edge. Apple’s praise of HTML 5 to justify exclusion of Flash makes an odd juxtaposition to their nonstandard definition of ‘pixel’.

    It seems like ‘problem solving’ is no longer driving innovation—and with innovation being primarily evaluated in terms of immediate profitability, that can hardly be surprising.

    But I feel that we are losers because of this focus. We’re not getting good innovation any more, we’re getting “innovation”, like a thinner phone, or a higher resolution phone, but certainly not a phone that simplifies things, or provides anything approaching continuity among all our devices….

  2. Some of this smart pairing was achieved by TouchPad, wasn’t it?

  3. Christopher Stura

    this may be, I have however successfully replaces my phone tablet and laptop with the original asus padfone. This represented a dream come true for me because all my data is in the same place and I am connected always and everywhere, no dowloading syncing or the like. I just don’t understand why the new padfone doesn’t have to keyboard dock. We will see in the future.

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