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Idea: An Android Tablet "Shell"

posted to writings on oct 31st, 2010 with tags android, ipad, and nerd

I keep reading stories about these new Android tablets that are destined for failure because they're too big or too small or too expensive. I owned an iPad and sold it after a couple months because I didn't use it enough to justify the cost. While its large screen was nice for viewing webpages or playing games on the couch, it was also one more device that I had to sync, charge, carry around, and possibly pay for another data connection for. With that in mind, I had an idea the other week: why doesn't someone make an Android tablet that just acts like a docking station (or "shell") for an Android phone?

The tablet would essentially be a big screen with no guts. An Android phone would plug into the back of it like the battery of a laptop does (think aluminum Powerbook but without the need for a coin), so that when it was installed, the tablet would be flush on the underside and have the same form factor as an iPad or other tablet. Once the phone was connected, the tablet would provide a larger display for the phone, just like plugging an external monitor into a laptop. The tablet would have no CPU, storage, or memory of its own, and wouldn't even need its own battery (though perhaps it could include an internal one for additional run time). Since the phone is still powering everything, it would still be able to use its WiFi and 3G connections.

Say you were on the couch reading a webpage on your phone and wanted to read it bigger. You could just grab the tablet on your table, pop in the phone, and instantly the tablet would come to life displaying exactly what was on your phone but on a much larger display at a higher resolution. When you were done, you would push the button on the back and eject the phone from the tablet.

The tablet would need the 4 standard Android hardware buttons and its own touch interface. Both would feed data to the phone over whatever kind of connection could provide power, video, and possibly audio back to the tablet shell. Ideally the physical connector would be something easy to plug into and remove from, like an Apple dock connector that angled up to accept the phone and then laid back down with the phone as it was pressed into its "cubby hole" cutout on the back of the tablet. It should be easy to do this one-handed without having to look at the connector.

I suppose it would only work with an Android phone providing such a connection and having the particular dimensions to fit in the tablet, so maybe that would be a prohibitive factor. Though, if the data connector were made into a pseudo-standard, phone manufacturers could sell phones with it and then sell tablet shells for their own phones as an accessory. This could even be extended to form factors other than a tablet, so that one could connect a mouse, keyboard, and large display to an android phone and use it like a netbook.

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