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Score! The Phone-Inside-A-Tablet Concept, Now From ASUS


I don’t know where my ideas come from, so don’t ask. However, I do get ideas. Most of them come to nothing. Every now and again, however, I score.

Back at Clarion in 1973, I wrote an otherwise dorky novelette entitled “But Will They Come When You Do Call For Them?” in which I predicted something very like the World-Wide Web. It was over twenty years later that I realized I’d been scooped by H. G. Wells, who published his idea of the World Brain in 1937. (I’d never heard of the World Brain until I read about it on…the Web.) Hey, if you’re gonna get scooped, get scooped by the best.

In 1993, I got an idea for something I called The All Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything. It came out of the Information Superhighway fever (remember that?) and did not postulate HTTP, which was a new and obscure protocol at the time I was doing my research. Functionally, however, it was Wikipedia, or at least Wikipedia minus its idiotic Not Notable fetish.

Jim Strickland told me that I came very close to describing Second Life three years before it went live, with my “RAD Mars” concept piece in the final issue of Visual Developer. I think there were other stabs at that concept abroad at the time, so I don’t consider it as big a score. Still, it’s a score.

Which brings us to a news item I ran across this morning while I was scanning the World Brain. (Or the Universal Data Engineering Project, as I had more humbly named it in 1973.) ASUS has unveiled the Padfone 2, a smartphone that plugs into a 10″ “dumb” tablet. Pull that animation around–it’s very cool. The PadFone 2 is the newest rev of a product announced last spring that I missed somehow. (2012 was the second-worst year of my life. I missed a lot.) Here’s another detailed description from Engadget. The ASUS PadFone product line is the first real-world stab at a concept I described here on Contra back in 2008. That was in the thick of the netbook era, post-Kindle but pre-iPad, and the notion of a general-purpose touchscreen tablet was still obscure. What I wanted was a dockable display into which my smartphone plugged, with storage and network communications on the smartphone. And dayum if that isn’t more or less precisely what ASUS offers in the PadFone.

So forgive me if I sound like I’m gloating. I’m gloating. This may be the most accurate technology prediction I’ve ever made, and I made it almost five years ago.

Back in 2008 I considered patenting the idea, but only briefly. A patent would have cost me $10,000 and more time than I had to spare right then. Worse, I consider the idea only half a notch more than obvious, and when people patent the obvious it makes my blood boil.

I am a big fan of ASUS, and I own a much-loved and much-used Transformer Prime. I wish them no ill, but guys, put that patent application down. I thought of it five years ago.


  1. Erbo says:

    Actually, you came up with the same basic idea in 1992, except, instead of requiring one component to physically dock with another, you had the two of them communicating wirelessly, which is much more convenient. True, back in those days you were thinking “infrared” rather than “radio,” but the same principle applies. And something like the X11 protocol running over an 802.11n connection might just be fast enough to make the interconnect work.

    1. The Jiminy concept (and the notion of AI stored queries called ghosts) came out of that story I wrote at Clarion in 1973, and tinkered with until 1985 or so. In 1973, the client-side units were lunchbox-shaped things called cans, and the data was stored in a massive mainframe in central Illinois, with mirrors at several points around the world.

      The can was your personal computer, and the ghosts in the can (wow, that would make a great title for a movie, huh?) went out and found answers to whatever questions you might have. As computing improved (and, more to the point, as I learned more about it) the cans became jiminies that lived on your lapel, with exotic versions built into earrings and glasses frames.

      The CBBS revolution in the late 70s convinced me that the future was distributed, and so the mainframes went away in favor of a Fido-style peer network. By the late 80s it was clear that computing was edging toward a partnership between peers and mainframes. Soon afterward, peer networks became slightly dicey things thanks to the Cyberpunkers and eventually Napster. My last take on the concept was an unfinished novel called The Lotus Machine, which persuaded me that while cyber was my home turf, punk was forever beyond me.

      I’ve been chewing this bone for a very long time.

      1. Erbo says:

        We’re starting to get all the pieces of it together now. My iPhone already has a dual-core processor, and Samsung has a quad-core version of the Galaxy S III out. And my phone has a storage capacity over three thousand times that of my first PC from 1989. Voice recognition technology hasn’t come to the point where it would need to be for a jiminy, but Siri and similar software is leading the way. High-speed wireless data is fairly ubiquitous by now, thanks to 4G cellular and Wi-Fi hotspots. Servers with the data and services we access still tend to be centralized, but not all in one place…and anyone can set up their own; something as small as a “plug computer” or a Raspberry Pi can host network services. We’ve got distributed commerce with eBay and Craigslist, Wikipedia as a centralized knowledge base (not to mention other, smaller wikis elsewhere…for instance, Memory Alpha is kind of “The All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything Related To Star Trek“), and, if you can’t get an answer that way, you can ask someone else via Quora. The idea of transparently-networked “dumb” peripherals is almost the last piece of the puzzle.

  2. […] the PadFone 2 is too big for you (see yesterday’s Contra) ASUS announced the FonePad, a…7″…smartphone. The notion of holding a thing like […]

  3. Andy Kowalczyk says:

    But isn’t Wells’ World Brain just an imagining of what an iteration of Teilhard’s noƶsphere could be like? And Teilhard published that in 1922.

    1. That’s a hard question, made harder by the fact that De Chardin had a fierce aversion to concrete thought. Wells is a lot easier to understand. As I see it, Teilhard proposed that information is a separate realm of existence created as a consequence of evolving minds, and Wells was trying to envision a means of documenting it. Certainly the Singularity owes a lot (maybe everything) to the Omega Point, and I reserve the right to think that both are at some deep level nonsense.

      Which doesn’t mean that I refuse to steal from one or both. I tried to give the noosphere a concrete expression in what I called metaspace (a key concept in the metaphysics of nearly all of my recent SF) as a descriptive layer that underlies physical reality and gives shape to it, right down to quantum pair effects. This owes more to David Bohm than Teilhard, perhaps, but I’ve scratched my head over both men more than once.

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