Yes, most smartphone makers are scrambling to bring lower-cost models to market amid softening demand for expensive flagship models. But people still are shelling out $700 for Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2 phablet — to the tune of selling 5 million of the niche device within two months of launch. And niche smartphones are what Asus does best. If it came at the U.S. market with variations on its Fonepad and PadFone, you can bet it would eat into Samsung’s market for big smartphones, not to mention it would threaten Samsung’s Android tablet sales.
While $1,300 seems expensive for the Asus Padfone, buyers get a premium smartphone with a 5-inch IPS display, brushed aluminum case, LTE, a 13 MP camera and beefy processor … as well as a 10-inch HD tablet the phone docks into and powers. Between its two components, the Padfone has about 50 hours of talk time before needing to find a power outlet, and it offers the advantage of using a single data plan for two mobile devices — the whole bundle is only half an ounce heavier than the latest iPad with Retina display.
And Asus might be a non-entity in terms of smartphones in the states, but its Padfone and FonePad lines are well known outside of the U.S. In fact, the Padfone is popular enough to have reached its third generation. In addition, Asus is established in the U.S. as the manufacturer of one of the most successful Android tablets — Google’s Nexus 7 — as well as its own line of innovative Android and Windows 8 tablets.
And then there’s that well-deserved reputation for pushing the envelope, releasing high “wow factor” devices like the Transformer AiO PC (combining a tablet and desktop PC) which was a Consumer Electronics Show star, the 18.4-inch Portable AiO Android tablet and the Transformer Book Windows 8 tablet/laptop combo.
If Asus delivers a 5-inch block of black plastic or aluminum and glass to U.S. carriers in 2014, it’s going to be lost in a sea of similar smartphones from equally “exotic” manufacturers like ZTE, HTC and Huawei.
But if the company brings its proven line of Padfones and FonePads to the party, there’s a good chance it could out-niche Samsung. It might even pick up some iPhone converts who want something really different and add some competition to the U.S. smartphone market.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.