The End of the Laptop As We've Known It?

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Some things just shouldn't be: roadkill art, toupees, pet rocks, and the stretch DC-8, to name a few. Now you can add ASUS' PadFone to the list. This phone that's also a tablet that's also a notebook is the ultimate in Frankentech.

Source: Asus.com.

I'll admit the device looks slick, as all things in product placement photos are wont to do. PadFone's feature list also looks impressive at first blush:

  • Native support for Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) popular but soon-to-be-outdated Ice Cream Sandwich version of the Android operating system.
  • QUALCOMM's Snapdragon dual-core central processor for rendering video and doing other complex applications fast.
  • Support for a variety of fast wireless technologies, from Wi-Fi to HSPA+ to 3G and 2G.
  • A 10.1-inch tablet screen that connects into the docking station.
  • An 8-megapixel autofocus LED flash camera.
  • HD video playback and recording.

And that's just a partial list. So what's the problem? It's that ASUS can't decide what it wants to sell. Neither fully a laptop nor fully a smartphone, the PadFone sits in the uncomfortable middle where good products go to die, ignored by consumers who prize simplicity over features.

Consider Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) . Only the intellectually dishonest would say Mr. Softy's products lack functionality. But they also do too much. Take Windows 8. For the new version, which has entered consumer testing, Mr. Softy anonymously compiled data from hundreds of millions of users for upgrading the Windows Explorer file manager. Dozens of microscopic enhancements are expected in what seems like an intentional effort to celebrate complexity.

Users and business will upgrade to Windows 8, but not because Windows Explorer is extremely functional. They'll upgrade because they already use the OS, and because the Mango interface that makes Windows Phone work as it does is far better and more intuitive when compared to earlier versions. In short, they'll upgrade because they have to. Mass enthusiasm is unlikely to play a part.

ASUS faces the same problem, only worse. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) is spending millions to cultivate crops of specialized ultrabooks to compete with the MacBook Air; Dell and Hewlett-Packard are already committed. And then, of course, there's the new iPad, which Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) plans to introduce tomorrow. Too many choices meet too many alternatives. It's a bad combo in which ASUS has probably sacrificed sales for features.

Think I'm wrong? Go ahead and tell me so using the comments box underneath. Or if you'd rather spend more time investigating the rise of mobile computing, download this new Motley Fool special report: "The Next Trillion-Dollar Revolution." The research is free, but only for a limited time. Click here to get your copy now.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home, portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, Intel, and Microsoft; buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and Google; writing covered calls on Dell; creating a bull call spread position in Apple; and creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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