I've been lusting after ASUS' ambitious Padfone devices ever since they were announced way back in 2012. But since ASUS is a company that focuses on its home market first, we haven't seen hide nor hair of the docking smartphone-tablet hybrids over here in the United States. According to an Engadget interview with ASUS CEO Jerry Shen, that could change as soon as the second quarter of next year.
The interview is a lengthy one, but the juicy bit is near the end: Shen says that ASUS is partnering with a "big operator" in the United States to launch the next iteration of the Padfone on our shores. That could mean a lot of things, but the conventional wisdom is that a successful US phone launch needs the help of at least one of the "Big Four" carriers. On the other hand, the Nexus series (which ASUS is quite familiar with) and Motorola's Moto X and Moto G are finding plenty of customers without them, so I suppose it could also be a major retailer. Shen isn't saying any more on the subject at present.
He also indicates that the US (and eventually European) model will be a high-end device, probably a successor to the Padfone Infinity rather than the newly-announced Padfone Mini which is currently bound for Asian markets. Another boon for premium customers and fans of ASUS' Transformer line: the return of a keyboard dock. The Padfone line abandoned its keyboard dock, which plugged into the tablet dock just like the Transformer series, after the initial model. Shen says that better technology to keep the accessory "light, slim, and pretty," combined with a considerable demand from power users, may lead ASUS to offer the keyboard option again.
ASUS chairman Jonney Shih with the Padfone Infinity
ASUS will have a tough go of it, no doubt about it: the company has no real experience in the US smartphone market, preferring to stay in Asia where the landscape isn't so dominated by carriers. A phone and tablet hybrid might be a tough sell to the telecom giants, who would probably prefer to sell separate devices with separate monthly data plans. Even so, I'm sure they'll find more than a few convergence fans eager to hand over their dollars for the next Padfone iteration. Enough to bring another after that? We'll just have to wait and see.