The ASUS Padfone: A Revolution in the Making?

by: Bogdan PetrovanMarch 5, 2012

padfone us carriers tethering

Can the Padfone change the restrictive tethering policies of U.S. carriers?

Since we were first introduced to the ASUS Padfone, almost a year ago, we were intrigued by the possibilities created by this seemingly wacky device. Is it a phone, is it a pad? It’s a Padfone! This comic book-reminiscent tagline summarizes the whole idea behind ASUS’ shape-shifting product. Instead of confining their thinking to the proverbial box, the Taiwanese chose to go their own way. The result is a device that is truly ground-breaking, not only in terms of design, but also through the concept that it promotes.

Why run around with three devices, when you can have one? Why waste time synchronizing mail, calendars, or media across devices? Most importantly, why pay tethering fees, when you can use the data that you paid for, the way you want it?

Darcy Lacouvee, our Editor-in-Chief called the Padfonean ideological shift, and likely one of the biggest shake ups to the world of mobile technology that I have ever laid hands on”. Darcy goes even farther when he says that the Padfone has “so much socialism embedded deep within its soul that I almost want to help the workers of the world unite”. Of course, he then called his last affirmation a joke, but we know him for the aspiring Commander Che he really is.

So, will the Padfone be the hero that liberates people from the tyranny of tethering-hating carriers? Or will it go straight to the dustbin of history, to join the ranks of so many other “revolutionary” devices?

American Carriers Will Hate the Padfone

It’s no secret. American carriers don’t like you tethering, or, better said, they don’t like you tethering for free. What they do like is to charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege of using your puny 3 gigabytes/month of data on your tablet or laptop. And why are AT&T and the rest of the gang doing this? Because they can.

android tether

Nobody can stop carriers from claiming that tethering is a value-added feature that costs money to offer. And if the FTC doesn’t do anything about the tethering charges, why would the carriers stop? No matter how you play your cards, they win. For carriers, tethering fees are not only good for filling the piggy bank, but also, an excellent tool to kick people of grandfathered unlimited plans.

Now here comes the Padfone, with its innovative 3-in-1 concept. By sticking your smartphone inside your tablet, which in turn can become your netbook, you essentially get a tethering-free method for using your mobile data, in whatever way you consider fit.

I bet carriers hate the idea. Here’s why:

1) No tethering fees

With a Padfone, you can peacefully browse the web, on a smartphone, tablet, or netbook, with one single plan, without having to pay extra fees. No jailbreaking, no rooting, no apps. Remember, you’re not using two separate devices (that would be a breach of the user terms). You are browsing from your phone, which happens to be connected to a 10-inch touchscreen. So carriers won’t be able to claim their $20-$30 monthly protection racket. Multiply that fee by a million, and you begin to understand the magnitude of the problem.

2) More data consumption

Carriers like you to use as little data as possible, while still hanging on to the 2GB or 3GB monthly quota. You see, the average American smartphone user consumes only 0.59GB of their 2GB-5GB allowance. Computerworld’s JR Raphael did a basic test and determined that a day of heavy smartphone usage consumes about 30MB of data. Over a month, that would be about 0.9GB.

The natural question: why do carriers offer either small and very expensive plans (like AT&T’s 300MB option for $20/month) or large and relatively expensive plans (like AT&T’s 3GB option for $30/month)? Because they don’t want you to pay for just what you need. It’s like a fast-food joint offering a $100 salad and a $75 all-you-can-eat buffet. When you’re starving, you’ll definitely choose the $75 buffet, even if all you wanted was a $10 burger. And guess what, the other joints down the street offer the same menu. Tough luck, buddy!

By making big-screen browsing (not to mention Netflix streaming content) accessible, the Padfone will disrupt the money-making scheme that AT&T, Verizon, and the gang have carefully set up. Padfone users will likely use more than the average 0.6GB of data, and probably reach consumption levels that are close to the 3GB/5GB floor. In other words, Padfone users will be much less profitable for carriers than “regular” users are.

3) Less devices sold and less plans

Now this one’s up for debate. We’re not sure how the purchasing behavior of Padfone users will differ from the customers that tout other devices. At least in theory, a cheap Padfone (cheap for what the Padfone offers) should create a bit of a stir in the market. As we’ve saw from the arrival of the Kindle Fire, people are crazy for affordable technology, even if the features or product quality are not cutting-edge.

asus padfone

At around $600-$700 (without a contract), the Padfone may be the next big thing. Remember that ASUS was the company that popularized  the original netbook concept in 2007. Back then, few gave a chance of success to ASUS’s diminutive machines, yet they were a smashing hit, until the tablets came over and ruined all the fun.

Could ASUS be doing history all over again? If that’s the case, other manufacturers will be soon to follow ASUS’s lead. This could drastically reduce the amount of standalone devices sold, and hence, the number of plans sold by carriers.

How Will the Carriers React to the Padfone?

In my opinion, there are three ways in which American carriers might react to the Padfone:

1) Reject it

If no carrier will subsidize the Padfone in the U.S., ASUS may have an uphill battle on their hands. It’s not impossible for the Padfone to catch on unsubsidized, but it will be a lot harder. Who might dare to carry it? I don’t think that AT&T or Verizon, with all their grandfathered unlimited plans. Sprint is still offering unlimited plans for $40 – will they risk drawing legions of Padfone-wielding data hogs? T-Mobile? Who knows?

2) Embrace it

The opposite scenario – what if one of the smaller carriers decides to embrace the Padfone and to promote it heavily? If the Padfone catches on to the public, the other carriers may be forced to jump on the bandwagon. The impact on the entire tech sector would be tremendous, and very hard to predict.

3) Ignore it

The middle way – the carriers may decide that the Padfone will go down the drain in a couple of months. Some may offer it with a Padfone-specific data plan, designed to offset their potential loses, which we outlined above.

asus padfone transformation

Can the Padfone Really Change Something?

If the Padfone gains traction, some big changes are headed for to the world of mobile technology. Carriers will have to re-do their math, and, hopefully, they’ll be forced to drop those outrageous tethering fees. And not only carriers will be affected. Every player in the tech industry, from Apple to Huawei, will have to take the Padfone into account. ASUS’ wacky device may be just the beginning of a long lineage of similar all-in-one gadgets.

On the other hand, this article may be simple wishful thinking. In this case, in six months from now, we’ll look back at it with sadness (not to mention embarrassment).But again, the Padfone might hit it big, with or without the support of the carriers. Who knows? The release of the Padfone may be the opening act of the next revolution in computing. We can’t wait to see.

What do you think? Can the Padfone change something? Will it rise to our lofty expectations? How will the carriers react to it? Let us know your thoughts!

  • BSU2006

    I doubt, highly, that any carrier will allow this device on their respective networks without a tethering package.

    • Andy

      If they try that one, then Asus them selves will have something to say as you’re not tethering.

      The pad is a dumb terminal until you plug the phone in.

      • Cobaltblue84277

        True but remember the same thing was true about the atrix laptop dock all that is is a screen a battery and a keyboard and at&t still wants to try and rape you with tethering fees . I heard that they are thinking about picking up this device I hope they don’t mess this up like they did with that but only time will tell

  • Guess

    We will have to wait and see. It’s success rests on how much it costs and if a carrier will take it.

  • OrdinaryGuy

    what about motorola’s webtop pro 500? isnt that the same thing? no tethering fees. Already offered by Verizon powered by the Razr.

    • The webtop pro 500 costs $350, which brings the cost of the total package (no contract) to $1000. Padfone would hit it big if it would cost about half than that.
      With a webtop you get a semi-functional laptop. With the Padfone, you get a fully functional tablet and the laptop.

      Therefore, I think that the Padfone will have a bigger impact on the carriers, than Motorola’s webtop does.

      Plus, for me it seems that there’s a problem of perception – people don’t normally associate their phone with their laptop; for most, they are very separate things. But they do associate their phone with a tablet – that makes sense.

    • Buckleyboyz

      the difference is the monthly fee’s

  • Mustang85351w

    All it is is a bigger screen. I have Verizon and tether with my laptop for free any way. Whats the difference. I want one of these bad. I was going to get a transformer prime till I heard about it.

  • Bornshallow

    Man I hope this phone causes the much needed cell phone data plan revolution…

    If the big 3 decide to require tethering fees on the padfone, myself and many others im sure wont be buying this device. They could probably squash the padfone in the US if they want to continue being greedy and nickel and diming us.

    … and they probably will.

    Verizon, ATT…These companies cant hold out forever, they need to make changes to the way their plans are set up- if they dont do it now they will be forced to do it down the road because we’re facing a complete shift in the way we use our technology, and these kind of devices are only going to grow in popularity.

    Think about it, we are more connected now than ever, but on that same note we have more devices than we ever did too! We have a cell phone which does everything, a tablet that does everything, a notebook/laptop that does everything, and possibly even a workstation at home that does everything. Thats FOUR devices that all do nearly the same thing! TOO MANY! If ICS is really the key to bridging the gap between mobile phones and tablets, we can make the mobile phone the processing center of our universe. We already carry them everywhere we go! Its all too efficient!

  • Buckleyboyz

    In this economy this devise would be a dream come true, and i’ll bet Metro PCS will grab it if offered. (I just don’t know how well there internet service is). electronic nut, Kathy

  • Buckleyboyz

    In this economy this devise is a dream come true, i’ll bet Metro PCS will use it if offered. electronic nutty

  • DJ in the OC

    Here’s hoping Sprint picks it up! I’ve been dreaming of this concept since before the Padfone was ever announced and I can’t wait to have it.

  • I don’t care– I’m gonna get it unsubsidized and use the hell outta it.

    • Montywm

      If a carrier in the US does not offer this, I want to get it unsubsidized as well. I am just confused though as to who to go to get a sims card so the phone callas and data work. can anyone help me with this?

      • Depends on what bands the phone will be supporting. If they can include T-mobile’s AWS frequencies, then I would go with them. If not, then go with an MVNO that uses AT&T’s frequencies but gives better pricing…

  • Michael Chan

    I will definitely consider to get one if I VZ will carry it. I will have to sell my wonderful Bionic. Just another bonus. These tablets or pads are much better in watching movies and videos as their color saturation and picture quality is far superior than most all laptops or lapdocks which are all watch out. I do not have to pay tether fees, why? I used PDAnet to connect using a cable.

  • Jazzieb2010

    I hope sprint gets it. I would love to have this it would save so much money. Actually every phone company should have it. It would sell specially with what it offers it is beautiful and I am excited.

    • SprintCustomer

      Would love to see Sprint pick up this device! The transformers is an excellent concept, this takes it one step further. It could be extremely useful for a frequent business traveler.

  • Eminent 1

    Will get either way unsubsidized or subsidized as long as there is no tethering fees. The Motorola thing is just butt rape. Assbolutely stupid. The idiots that bought into that did it to themselves.

  • NCC

    i want this phone, i would love this for work. when is this thing going to be available? is it out in EU already?

  • MusicCityTitan

    I hope people understand how this device works. There is NO tethering with this. The phone is the only part of this that has brains and a data plan. The Tablet portion is nothing but a dummy monitor with extra battery life. Without the phone it cannot function on its own. Then the Netbook portion is just a keyboard with more battery capacity in it. So the keyboard, and the tablet cannot “tether” to the phone at all. All 3 devices use the phone as the core system. I really dont understand why people think the device will need to tether to one another to work.

    • Ah, you are right! I should have read your comments first. So this kind of device will not make carriers lose money, just us case makers… :-(

    • actually the tablet would probably have its own core system due to the fact that the phone optimized version of the default ics launcher is totally incompatible with a tablet. it would look very weird.

      • Nick

        The Tablet doesn’t have any core system. All the CPU, memory and network is in the phone. They configured 2 independent launchers, and when the phone is inserted into the tablet station, Android changes the launcher.

  • Great article. I love the Padfone. We are a designer and manufacturer of tablet and phone cases, and we are doing some research on this product. I think this is a wonderful product, and I really hope this can be accepted by the US carriers, so they can sell well here.

    Oh wait, should I be on the carrier’s side, too. If they put phones and tablets together, I can only sell one case, and I used to be able to sell two….just kidding…