Why Asus Padfone 2 will fail just like Moto Atrix Webtop/Lapdock did. We don’t need another smartphone/tablet hybrid

Asus is at it again.

After the failed PadFone smartphone/tablet experiment, Taiwanese PC vendor is giving the hybrid concept another try with Asus Padfone 2.

The new device specs are impressive: latest quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon APQ8064 CPU, 2GB of RAM, 13 mpx camera with 60 fps 720p/30fps 1080p video recording, 4.7” 720p 550 nits IPS touchscreen, 2140 mAh battery, LTE, NFC, 50 GB of cloud storage and much more. The tablet dock called Padfone Station adds 10.1” 1280×800 IPS display and 5000 mAh of battery.

On paper Asus Padfone 2 looks great.

And it will fail just like the first Padfone failed. And like all other smartphone/tablet/PC hybrids before it failed.

Remember Motorola Atrix Webtop/Lapdock? It’s dead. Ubuntu on Android? Haven’t heard much about it since March. iMate Legionnaire/Warrior? Yep, there was such a thing/prototype back in 2009. Running Windows Mobile, if you can believe it. Never saw the light of day.

The trouble is- these kinds of devices bring very little value for average Joe, and solve very few problems a stand-alone, and often cheaper, smartphone/tablet combo can’t solve, too.

The new Asus 32GB Padfone 2 with Padfone station tablet dock costs 799 Euro. Motorola Atrix with a Lapdock went for about as much when it became available. Meanwhile, I can buy 16GB Samsung Galaxy S3 for less than 500 Euro and 16GB Nexus 7 for 250 Euro in Germany today.

The only benefit I get from the Padfone, is that all my data and apps are in the same place, and I can get to them on a bigger screen, as soon as I dock the phone into the Padstation. With most of my files synced in the cloud, and Wi-Fi tethering – an increasingly meaningless advantage.

But I still have to lug the useless display box around if I want the tablet functionality. And if I want to use a phone, I can’t do that without a headset, or broadcasting my conversation to everyone around, when it is docked.

I am trying to think of various scenarios of Asus Padfone use, and nine times out of ten Galaxy S3/Nexus 7 combo comes out on top.

I used to think that such hybrid smartphone/tablet/laptop devices are the future. That the only reason they didn’t take off yet, was the technology, which just wasn’t there yet. That it is just a matter of time until the necessary components and software gets good and cheap enough to make a breakthrough hybrid. And if it won’t happen this year, it will definitely happen in 2013-2014.

I was wrong.

Data and app portability/sync is just not the problem that needs solving. It already is solved, more or less, with the means we have. And the price savings you can get  in a hybrid, by avoiding duplication of a few components like CPU, baseband and RAM, will never be worth the lost flexibility from a stand-alone smartphone/tablet combo.

There’s a good reason why all the previous attempts to create a mass market hybrid smartphone-computer-tablet, failed. And why we only see them from companies like Asus and Motorola, who are trying hard (and failing) to find a place in a smartphone market. Unable to compete with more successful players on own smartphone merits, they’ll try anything just for the sake of being different.

Every hybrid device I have seen to date is an ultimate example of a solution looking for a problem. It looks great on paper for company engineers looking to create something original. And the stuff an upstart vendor is able to cram into the device, between the smartphone heart and the tablet base, makes tech geeks like me drool in anticipation. Hence all the excited headlines in tech blogs, when another one of them is announced.

Asus Padfone 2 and other converged gadgets that I’m sure will come along, may find their small niche. There may be some special cases and enthusiasts who will prefer them to the standalone smartphone and tablet.

But a mainstream Padfone like device? Forget it. There really is no need for such thing.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • Tom Raider

    The concept that the Padfone/KT Spyder/Lapdock/Webtop brought was the ability to have your own persona/digital life (identity, files, media, preferences, logins) always with you. Then the ability to dock this ‘module’ into a variety of generic peripherals that take on your persona when you use them.
    I agree in a single-user scenario, the pricing of the Padfone doesn’t compete with dual device setups so the problem is more syncronisation than hardware cost saving, which the cloud has solved. I could see this model being more cost effective in a family scenario where anyone in the family could dock their phone into a shared tablet shell, laptop dock, PC dock.
    This was almost realised in the Webtop system, where a whole range of Motorola’s devices were compatible with large and small laptop docs, HD TV docs, keyboard/mouse/monitor set ups. But the platform is probably the issue, I don’t see Android being universal enough to handle taking over your entire computing life. In my own usage, RDPing to Windows and Linux servers was the only way of getting any real work done.
    The game-changer for me, which has crystalised itself in the last few months, is the Windows 8 ecosystem. I don’t think the Webtop model can compete with what M$ has here, as it solves all these problems in one. Your persona lives in the cloud and handles identity and sync (Microsoft login/Skydrive etc) and you have the ability of sharing devices (PCs and tablets with multi-user login capability) with your phone also synced (WP8).
    So I can see why Moto dumped Webtop so recently, and why the Padfone hasn’t delivered on its promise. It’s all about the implementation: fitting into your existing digital life, the platforms you’re using.

  • I’m right – you’re wrong.

    I disagree.
    This could be a game changer. Its is light (the two combined weighing less than most 10 tablets available), sleek, seamless, and the annual savings for having one data plan for one combo device is more than enough to swallow the price. Padfone = 799 euro, combined price of the Samsung products = 750 euro. The savings on one additional data plan MORE than makes up for the 49 euro difference. Its the carriers that will put up the biggest stink about that and will be the biggest hurdle for innovative companies like Asus to jump. AT&T and Verizon just loves that their US customers will get a data plan for each of there devices. Costing the consumer Hundreds of dollars a year. One device with the capabilities of two or three ( Phone/Tablet/Laptop ), one data plan. If this moves in the right direction it is the internet providers who are in trouble. Cablevision, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast. Little by little, customers who have a solid product with increasingly better coverage will no longer find it necessary to Pay for home Internet service. Products like Asus (Padfone) and Fujitsu (Lifebook) are ideal for High School and College students, single persons who want to keep spending down, and your everyday tech geek.
    Motorola failed due to there inability to stick to their guns and having ( like all phone companies ) too many devices to manage. I used and still do use the webtop on my Photon 4G. It is great when traveling, Sharing pictures and videos with friends with out having to transfer data from my phone all the time. But packing up the dock is a pain in the rear. It is a much simpler concept to dock the phone into a tablet ( a device I carry with me anyway) and link that to a screen if even needed. This technology needs to be encouraged and nurtured in the best interests of the consumer. Further more, its not just what is needed, we don’t need all this tech crap. We want it. We enjoy it. And we are willing to buy it. Especially if it simplifies our cluttered lives and saves us money in other areas.