transformeraioedit

Damn, that’s big.

That’s the first thing that crossed my mind when I saw Asus’ Transformer AiO, an all-in-one PC that doubles as an 18.4-inch tablet. Asus today announced that the device, which was unveiled in June 2012, will retail for $1,299 this spring. That grand-and-change will net consumers a device that flip-flops between a Windows 8 desktop, a Windows 8 “remote desktop,” and an Android tablet, provided consumers can handle a tablet twice as large as the original ipad.

Which led to my second thought: Do we really want something that tries to pull all three of those things off? And, surprisingly, my response wasn’t an immediate “Hell no, prepare the holy water!” but was instead a deep, resounding “Maybe.”

You know that old saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” Well, all Asus has is a blender, and it’s ready to experiment and blend until it finds the strawberry banana smoothie of computers.

Asus has fully embraced the hybrids of computing, developing everything from Windows 8 convertibles (devices that act as both a tablet and a laptop) and phablets (the horribly-named Fonepad) to a tablet that houses a phone in its shell (the not-at-all-similarly-named Padfone). After the fall of the netbook left Asus without a cornerstone product, the company has started to experiment with any new form factor that presents itself.

It just so happens that Asus is making this shift as an industry defined by myriad gadgets and a device for every purpose rushes to consolidation. Just a year ago it wasn’t uncommon for someone to own a smartphone, a tablet, and a PC — now we have phablets gaining popularity, laptops that double as tablets, and operating systems that try to support every screen size imaginable.

People are using their iPad minis as phones. (No, really.) The Samsung Galaxy Note line and Asus’ Fonepad blur the line between smartphones and tablets, just as LG and Motorola and HTC introduce ever-larger devices of their own. Only a few years after the introduction of all these devices, it seems that the industry is doing its best to lighten our loads and re-condense the number of devices we carry.

Part of this shift is going to involve desktops. How could it not? While the technorati will sneer at a tablet as large as the Transformer AiO and complain about “gorilla arm” and weight, it isn’t hard to imagine consumers embracing something that shifts between work and play so easily. It just happens to be that “work” typically involves a desk and “play” occurs somewhere else.

Asus is taking a lot of risk with the Transformer AiO. It won’t be easy to explain to consumers what the difference between “remote desktop” and “tablet mode” are beyond one using Windows 8 and the other using Android, which presents a whole other set of problems. If explaining Windows RT to consumers (or anyone) is hard, I don’t even want to know how explaining a device that uses two different operating systems would work.

But, then, Transformer AiO is a simple enough concept. It’s a device that works as a desktop and a tablet. It’s basically a large (for a tablet, not a desktop) touch-screen that you can take with you. And it is simply the latest blend, Asus’ latest attempt to combine device types to build something greater than the sum of its parts.

Maybe it isn’t quite strawberry banana, but at least someone is crazy enough to give it a go.