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Asus: It's time to grow up and drop the gimmicks

Andy Vandervell

by

Asus Transformer Book Trri
Good products solve problems, bad ones create them

Asus is a great company. It makes the best Android tablet, the Nexus 7. It invented the netbook with the Asus Eee PC 701. It pioneered the 'hybrid tablet' concept with the Asus EeePad Transformer. It's still the biggest and best PC component brand around. It takes risks. It makes the likes of Dell, HP and Acer look punch drunk and rudderless. It punches above its weight.

But Asus needs to grow up.

Before I explain why, I feel compelled to stress this isn't a thinly veiled malice. When I say "Asus is a great company" I mean it. I like Asus. I like (most of) its products and own (have owned) a great many. I count at least two of their employees as close personal friends, and like and respect a great many more in a professional capacity. But sometimes it frustrates as much as it delights.

Let me explain why.

Good products solve problems, bad ones create them

This isn't a newly-held view, but the catalyst for this particular piece was this week's launch of the Asus Transformer Book Trio. For the uninitiated, it's another variation on the nascent laptop-tablet hybrid category in which Asus is a leading light.

In this case it's an 11.6-inch Android tablet and Windows 8 laptop in one, or a desktop-laptop-tablet 'trio' in Asus's eyes, hence the name. The tablet segment has its own Intel Atom processor, integrated battery and storage but, when docked to the 'laptop' segment, it becomes the screen for a Windows 8, Intel Core i7 machine that has its own battery and hard drive as well.

For me, this is a classic Asus 'fantasy' product. It ranks beside the likes of the huge and expensive Bang & Olufsen laptop (NX90), Windows and Android all-in-one PC (Transformer AiO P1801) and numerous other 'concepts', as products that make good column inches and headline-grabbing 'world first' press releases at trade shows, but that no one ever will (or should) buy.

The Trio's doubling up on hardware will make it prohibitively expensive, and dual-booting operating systems have never been (and never will be) a recipe for success. Netbooks proved that.

Indeed, I contend that the Asus Transformer Trio isn't even a genuine hybrid. It's two entirely separate products awkwardly strapped together with little thought to the end user's best interest. In a time when people are gravitating towards smaller tablets (hello, Nexus 7), it's a glorified monitor that's too large to be a practical tablet. It creates more problems than it solves.

Unlocking its true potential

The Asus Transformer Book Trio crosses the line from brave innovation to attention seeking desperation. It yells "look at me". It betrays an adolescent insecurity that Asus must banish.

Why? Because its actual products, the ones people do and should buy, are good enough to speak for themselves. Because stupid, nonsensical gimmicks distract from the Zenbook Infinity (its MacBook Air beating retina screen laptop), the wildly popular Nexus 7 and Transformer Pad Infinity.

When I look at those products, I see a company that can mix it with the best. They're quality products with great design, build quality and focus. They're the kind of products that can lift Asus from being a well-regarded innovator into a titan of the industry. It's not a closed shop. Just ask Samsung.

I know Asus is better than the Transformer Book Trio. It's time to grow up and prove it, or it will forever fight at the fringes instead of the front lines.

Next, read why Intel's Haswell processors could be the saviour of Windows 8

Andy Vandervell is Deputy Editor at Trusted Reviews. He tweets at www.twitter.com/andyvan and you can follow him on Google Plus too.

Daniel Gerson

June 6, 2013, 12:22 pm

I disagree. You're way to certain that the trio will be a bad product. I'd argue that this is not inevitable at all.

You fail to appreciate that the trio is 2 products! I can buy the i7 keyboard if I want a new desktop machine, with the possibility of upgrading to a notebook & on the go tablet later. OR I can buy the tablet with the possibility of upgrading to a productivity suite on the go later!

This is a very powerful statement, because the products are independent in their own right while greater than the sum of their parts when combined.

Gamers may also require fairly decent GPUs, so we'll see if it meets this criteria... but this has the potential to be really great!

Further, dual boot has failed because it has been slow/cumbersome to switch! (One CPU). As nobody has used an instant switch system, your criticism here about its historic lack of utility doesn't cut it.

What we need now is a standardized dock-clip mechanism, so that ANY tablet can be paired with ANY keyboard... that will still be a ways off when things start to slow down.

M.Musak

June 6, 2013, 2:02 pm

I also disagree.

This is one of the few recent products that I actually want to (and will!) buy.

At the office I can detach the screen and use it as a general browsing tablet.
The base can be connected to my desktop monitors.
On the road I have a very powerful laptop.
At home I can use the screen as a browsing tablet without having to lug a laptop about.
The tablet can be used as a media consumption device and the laptop for production.
Sounds like the best of all worlds.

The only things that would make this perfect are for the screen to have its own kickstand and also allow it to be connected as a screen e.g. hdmi in or usb connection via displaylink.
A HD screen with build in battery that is also a tablet would be heaven.

Daniel has a good point - if they sold the screen and base separately, I could imagine purchasing multiple units.

Asus is the only company providing true innovation recently.
The others such as HP have been a complete let down.

David Gray

June 6, 2013, 7:34 pm

I kinda agree. All these weird products, but when are they gonna bring a touchscreen to their popular nv line of laptops? currently Samsung 7 series Chronos 15" is the only option if you want everything in one laptop

Bugblatter

June 6, 2013, 8:47 pm

Yes, ASUS should make products almost indistiguishable from everyone else's!

Poppycock. They're pushing the envelope. First usable hybrid (Transformer) and now everyone else is playing catch-up.

Praise the innovation. Not all of it will pan out, but some will.

toboev

June 6, 2013, 9:14 pm

So you laud them for taking risks. Except when those risks result in failure. The solution is obvious. Only take risks where the outcome is certain. Now, where did I leave my 'hindsight' spectacles?

Nate Ebner

June 6, 2013, 10:28 pm

Me too.
I have a big smartphone, and a powerful desktop. I have a frankly annoying and barely used laptop, that is mainly a source of frustration.

If I was to ever bother getting a tablet, it would be of the hybrid sort, as a laptop replacement, but I wouldn't be keen on a non-Windows laptop, and I am not keen on a Windows tablet.

This device sounds ideal, as long as the switching is good and prompt, and the separate parts can draw power from both batteries. If so then the big question is price, if they can hit the price of a high end ultrabook, then it would be very desirable. Looking forward to reviews and pricing details.

andyvan

June 7, 2013, 1:21 pm

There are calculated risks and then there's a Book Trio. As I say in the piece, good products solve problems. The likes of the Transformer Pad do that by allowing you to get more out of an ordinary Android tablet, increasing battery life and so on, and all at a good price.

The Book Trio, on the other hand, creates problems. How do I sync my music, photos etc. across both devices? Why is it necessary to combine two totally difference experiences, particularly when the extra hardware needed jacks up the price? I appreciate the Windows Store isn't awash with great apps, but then neither is Android when it comes to full-size tablets.

andyvan

June 7, 2013, 1:25 pm

I don't really see the benefit in the hybrid scenario your describing here. Why would I buy a laptop without the screen with the possibility of a tablet later?

On the dual boot, my key point is the lack of common access to files. You effectively have to keep files in two locations on the same device... I say the same device, as in my eyes these are really two devices not one.

The fundamental question you have to ask is this: does it make my life easier? I don't think this does because it creates as many problems as it solves.

andyvan

June 7, 2013, 1:29 pm

I think something like the Surface Pro, particularly as and when it's upgraded to Haswell, fits the usage scenario you're suggesting far better. Let's not forget this is an 11.6-inch tablet we're talking about here. That's seriously big, and not that portable.

Moreover, considering it's an Android tablet, how is this an improvement on having a Android tablet and a separate Windows laptop?

andyvan

June 7, 2013, 1:30 pm

Having spend a lot of time with the Surface Pro, I'd recommend reconsidering Windows as a tablet experience. I think it's an improvement on Android, particularly on larger screens. Apps are the only problem, but they will come.

Nate Ebner

June 7, 2013, 2:06 pm

Mainly because of how I'd use it.
It would be a bigger version of my phone, and so running the same eco system and apps would be advantageous.
With the laptop combo, for productivity stuff, I'd use it as a laptop in Windows, and for entertainment stuff, just use it as the tablet.

As for Android, I have no experience of it on a tablet, but on my phone, for browsing the web, listening to music, playing games and watching films, I have no problems; and can't see Windows being measurably better at those things, especially given the app disparity. Given Android is growing massively, and still struggling to close the app gap on Apple, then I doubt Windows will be close by the time the device is four years old (a decent upgrade window).

I really see very little point in getting a tablet for my needs, the only exception would be in a case like this, when it also comes as part of a quality laptop.

Nate Ebner

June 7, 2013, 2:09 pm

What apps are missing for Android tablets?
(Genuine question)
As a 1080p phone user, there are plenty of HD apps I use which would be great on a tablet.

Daniel Gerson

June 7, 2013, 3:14 pm

You wouldn't buy a laptop without a screen. Read my post carefully. "I can buy the i7 keyboard if I want a new DESKTOP!! machine".

If you specifically wanted a laptop and that's all, then I'd agree the Trio probably isn't for you. The three scenarios you'd want it are:

1) To only buy a tablet - with upgrade optionality.
2) To buy a desktop - with notebook & tablet upgrade optionality.
3) You wanted the whole package.

Regarding your comments "On the dual boot, my key point is the lack of common access to files".

Firstly, if this is the reason that you state in the article that "and dual-booting operating systems have never been (and never will be) a recipe for success", this simply isn't true. Dual boot systems typically SHARE the same storage.

As per your speculation on the Trio, at the moment it's precisely that - speculation. The question is do they share the same PC bus? If they do, then it's great! This would be an easier mechanism of copying data than fumbling with cables and/or wifi... and if I have a video on the tablet, I can give it to my nephew and still have a functioning desktop.

What they need to do now, is merge the two form factors (Transformer & Trio), so I can start by buying a transformer, and upgrade to trio.

toboev

June 7, 2013, 4:07 pm

Solving identified problems is one route to developing a product. But if you restrict yourself to solving identified problems, then you miss the far greater number of market opportunities - meeting the unknown problems.

To do that involves taking risks, or serendipity. It has to, since you can't know about the problem you are solving in advance.

So SMS texting, a monumentally successful product, came about by good fortune, not by an analyical identification of a problem.

The Galaxy Note 1, certainly none of the hacks seemed to think it met a need, they only saw the 'problems' it created (ooh, it's too big). Until it took off and spawned a new sector.

The only risk taking involved in developing products exclusively to meet a need is that you miss all the other opportunities, the ones which do involve risk taking and possible failure.

So maybe the Trio will fail. But the possibility of failure is no reason not to take risks. In fact you could argue a company that only launches successful products is enjoying the temporary luxury of an uncompetitive market, and will fail once the risk takers enter and capitalise all the unforeseen opportunities.

andyvan

June 7, 2013, 4:31 pm

But buying a laptop base to act as desktop is just paying over the odds for inferior hardware, surely? I get your point about having the option to upgrade in future, but I'd like to think most people know if it's an actual desktop or laptop that they need and, that in 9/10 cases, it's a laptop, hence why laptop sales vastly out number desktop sales.

Dual-boot system do typically share the same storage, yes, but the Trio doesn't. It has separate storage for both segments and everything I've read elsewhere says any syncing between the two means using cloud storage, or perhaps a USB flash drive. Cloud storage for documents is okay, but for music it's impractical and expensive.

M.Musak

June 7, 2013, 5:44 pm

I have a Surface Pro and am not as impressed with it as you clearly are!

For me computers have 2 roles production & consumption.

For consumption - tablets are excellent as keyboards use is minimal. Android devices rule due to better battery life / more apps / low cost. I have actually lost count as to the number of android tablets we have around the house.

Surface Pro for this purpose is like try to crack a nut with a sledgehammer. For consumption / light gaming it is very much over the top and expensive to purchase multiple units in single household.

Surface RT was supposed to be for this purpose but is a dead duck. Microsoft failed in try to create 3 ecosystems when they should have focused just on 2.

For production - Laptops/Desktops rule and no android tablet can hope to match this.

Surface Pro is once again (in my view) a failure here.

Compare working on a surface pro with any decent laptop (I use an hp elitebook) and the laptop will win hands down.

With regard to Apps on windows.
I am also sure they will come but I will not be as carefree in purchasing them as I am on Android. Why? The 5 install limit!!
On android I can install the app on as many of my devices as I want without having to pay again and again.

M.Musak

June 7, 2013, 5:50 pm

The separate storage is less an issue than you might think and thinking about it, that is how I would prefer it.
If I wanted to share data on the desktop unit with my tablet screen, I would simply share it via network e.g stream video files to my tablet etc...
I already do this beween my laptop / nas unit and android devices.
No need to go to the cloud to share data :)

Daniel Gerson

June 8, 2013, 5:44 am

If the trio doesn't have a means of connecting the two storages, then I agree this would be a pain. I don't think that your article is without merit, but I also think that innovation to some degree requires experimenting with concepts that are half-baked. This is necessarily true at substantial enterprises like Asus because of the politics of multi-team interaction. Maybe the trio itself isn't it, but it may lay the groundwork for similar kinds of switch systems. I think the idea of buying a transformer & then upgrading it to an i7 is very powerful... an idea that wasn't thinkable until trio.

Mark Colit

June 8, 2013, 11:45 am

Mobile technologies are plateauing fast. Companies like Asus need to focus on enhancing
battery life to at least 24/48 hours-- that could be one way that manufacturers attract customers in the
future.There's more than enough computational power under the hood for most people these days, but not enough electron juice to fuel it.

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