ASUS has surprised the industry with its latest product unveiling at Computex 2011 in Taipei. Is it a tablet or is it a phone? It's both! It's Padfone, a tablet-phone combination. Much like the Motorola Atrix netbook dock, ASUS has created a tablet that docks a phone, enabling the tablet shell to be imbued with the powers of the phone. Is this the future of mobile devices? Read on, find out, and see how Padfone may have channel implications ...

If you're unfamiliar with what exactly we mean by a "third device," it's simple: The first device is the laptop, the second device is the mobile phone and the third device is what sits somewhere between them, and it's usually a tablet.

ASUS's press release reveals little about the device, but noted ASUS' motivation: creating a device that doesn't compromise. Sometimes you feel like using a big screen, sometimes you don't. But instead of having to sync and manage your third device, your second and third device are one and the same. It doesn't cut down on the stuff you carry around, its usefulness is obvious. When the phone is plugged in, it shares the 3G phone connection and all the data from the phone.

Engadget got some hands-on time with the device, as well as more details, including its slated release in the 2011 holiday season. And because it's primarily a phone, it won't be running Honeycomb, but the tablet will support 1280x800 resolution. The tablet dock will act as an extra battery, a nicer pair of speakers and an "I/O extender," which I can only imagine means supporting HDMI out and other USB devices. Engadget also noted the tablet's compatibility with future ASUS phones is something that's being mulled around.

Here's why ASUS's plan is brilliant: The industry is finally recognizing and acknowledging the usefulness of a third tablet device, and it's evident by two major technologies slated to debut this year. The first is the BlackBerry Bridge, which links a BlackBerry to a PlayBook for a multitude of syncing and connection-sharing activities. The second is HP's webOS Bluetooth technology that links the HP TouchPad to any of the new webOS 3.0 devices. Both of these technologies allow users to answer e-mail and texts and take phone calls directly from the tablet.

The creation of iPad was the first time someone could conceivably 'need' to carry around two distinct iOS devices -- the iPhone and iPad -- and the same is true this year with Honeycomb tablets and Android phones. If I could have a hollow shell of an iPad with a slot for an iPhone, I would be sold instantly. ASUS is essentially entering two markets with one product strategy, since the guts of tablets are increasingly similar to the guts of top-class mobile phones and vice versa. It also conceivably can cut down on the price since ASUS is now only producing one device  -- with the phone as the brains, there's no need to make more CPUs and motherboards -- and the tablet shell could be sold for a mere $200. It may even be bundled with the phone as a "Buy a phone and get a tablet free!" promo.

And so how does the channel benefit? Increased productivity, of course. But really, it's more than that. It also cuts down on the amount of devices that IT admins, VARs and MSPs theoretically would have to manage, which could solve a big headache many SMBs and enterprises face when dealing with the consumerization of IT. What's more, there is the potential the tablet shell could be 'borrowed,' if a friend or coworker wanted to show you a PDF or presentation on their phone.

I'm sure you, dear reader, can even come up with a neat ideas too, but the merging of the phone and tablet as one device could have ripple effects across the tablet industry. Do you see it as a gimmick or pure brilliance? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

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