Each year the first hint of spring brings a crop of fresh new designs to Barcelona’s mobile conference. Since this event hosts the “Not Apple” crowd, these designs may be less elegant that we might prefer in our latest toys. This sometimes makes the process of determining which prototype may hold the essence of a great idea that much more difficult to determine; the ugly duckling may well turn into a swan.
Or not. The design proposed in the linked article (if your German is rusty, you’ll need to make do with the illustrations) is for a cell phone that turns into a tablet, which turns into a laptop. While the “Transformer” theme is interesting, the question should be able to be resolved from first principles. Let’s start at the back end: yes, a tablet can be attached to a keyboard, and turned into a functional laptop-like device. I’m typing this article on one, so I’d say that is a vote for that particular transform. And the processor and other electronics from a phone can be put into a tablet, as long as extra battery power is provided. The iPhone/iPad component relationship, amongst others, confirms that. And with quad-core processors, there should be no lack of speed and processing power in such a system; quite the opposite: the extra battery from the tablet might be very necessary to get a reasonable run-time from such a core.
Apple has certainly shown that syncing apps and data between a phone and a tablet can be fast and seamless, so the all-in-one’s lack of need for syncing is a minor advantage, at best.
But finally, let’s look at the “spork” versus the separate cutlery in terms of cost. The screen, housing, backlight, battery, and ports of the tablet need to occur in the tablet component. So it’s really the electronics that are the savings in the spork scheme. How much does is really saved by not replicating those core items? Apple’s cost of components for an iPad must run under two hundred dollars, and the electronics alone, less still.
So does a hundred and change in savings make up for your tablet needing to be thick enough to fit a phone inside it, behind the screen? And having to put the phone in there every time you want to use your tablet? And not being able to use the tablet independently? And needing to take it out when you get, or make, a call (unless you want to make it a conference call). And needing to buy the phone, to buy the tablet? And having the tablet unusable if your phone is lost or damaged, giving you no backup device? And losing that great set of apps to find your phone from your tablet, and visa versa? And having to replace them both together, since they are a wedded pair? And not being able to loan out one device to a child (of any age) while using the other?
I could go on, but I think the point is made. There’s a lot of added complexity and compromise hidden under the clever piggybacking, that might not be evident at first. And with the rise of AirPlay/thin-client types of streaming, puting your phone in your tablet/laptop may not really be necessary in the near future anyways; your phone may stream to any of your other devices painlessly; if they have their own brain. So I’ll chalk this design up as worth pondering, but more questionable in terms of actually building and marketing a product.