Microsoft is trying to patent what’s basically the main idea behind the Transformer, but with a few twists. So yes, you have a tablet component and a ‘base’ component (which Asus calls a keyboard dock). The tablet can work on its own, or it can be connected to that base.
However, in Microsoft’s vision there will be a processor in the tablet as well as one in the base station. The one in the tablet is optimized for low-power usage scenarios, emphasizing battery life of course. Whereas the processor in the base unit will be all about performance (at least compared to its sibling inside the tablet). So when you connect the tablet to the dock, you’ll basically get a lot more performance than what the tablet’s processor can offer. You may even get more RAM, for the two parts could each have a certain amount. Say the display part has 1 GB, and the base part has 3 GB. When they’re connected, you’ll actually have 4 GB to work with. This same principle could be applied to storage space as well, Microsoft says.
The tablet actually turns into a laptop (or at least an ultrabook), and not into a netbook, performance-wise.
The operating system should adapt too, Microsoft thinks. It should transition between a “resource-intensive computing environment” when the tablet is connected to the base, and a “resource-conserving computing environment” when the device is used as a tablet alone.
The duality of the newly-announced Windows 8 immediately comes to mind, of course. In such a scenario, when you’d use just the tablet you’d be presented with only the ‘Metro’, fully touch-optimized aspects of Windows, whereas when you’d be using the device as a laptop, you’d get access to the ‘traditional’ Windows desktop which can still work via touch if you want to, but is also heavily optimized for keyboard+mouse use.
Although Windows 8 currently shows you either environment depending on what you want to do, in the future a Microsoft OS could just decide which interface to show you based on how you’re using your computer of the future – just as a tablet, or as a ‘full blown’ laptop.
That said, Microsoft goes even further and (as seen in the image above) takes this concept to the desktop as well. So your tablet could be used by its own or connected to a monitor dock, which itself is connected via cable to a ‘base unit’ that in this case looks like your average desktop PC. Of course there are some disadvantages to this, as the tablet could be simply too large to operate easily as a tablet if it has to be the required size to function properly as a monitor. Or the other way round – if the tablet is a 10-inch (or let’s even stretch that to 13.3-inch) unit, it may just prove to be too small to be of any use as a desktop monitor. Still, Microsoft seems intent on covering all its bases here.
Because of the fact that in Microsoft’s vision, the keyboard element of the ‘laptop’ would also have its own processor, memory, and storage space and not function just as a big battery with some ports on it, it’s probably unlikely that Asus will get in trouble with Microsoft if this patent will be granted.
Yet I have to say that, at least in theory, Microsoft’s vision on this makes a lot more sense. People have been talking about the one computing device to rule them all for many years, and this may just be it. No more buying many different computers/tablets for many different use cases. This, alongside your smartphone, will be enough. One day.
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