Motorola’s Making Cheaper Atrix-Style Docks, Hopefully Not Ruined by AT&T

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Motorola’s laptop dock for the Atrix 4G smartphone is a taste of the future that’s way too expensive for the present at $500. Thankfully, that hasn’t discouraged Motorola from working on newer, cheaper versions.

Motorola Chief Executive Sanjay Jha told investors to expect more laptop docks in the second half of this year, covering a broader range of prices than the Atrix 4G Lapdock. According to ZDNet, cheaper docks may have smaller screen sizes and resolutions.

The existing Atrix dock is virtually an empty shell with a track pad, keyboard, battery and 11.6-inch display. All of the computing power comes from the phone itself, which loads up a full version of the Firefox browser when plugged into a slot behind the Lapdock screen. The advantage, in theory, is the ability to store important data on the phone and be able to access it on the big screen without transferring files.

But that benefit is far outweighed by the Lapdock’s cost. A two-year tethering contract, when purchased with the $200 Atrix 4G phone, brings the dock price down to $300, but then you’ve got to pay an extra $20 per month on top of the basic $25 data plan for the life of the contract. For that matter, you can’t access AT&T’s network through the phone without a tethering plan.

That, to me, is the biggest dealbreaker. Even though the dock isn’t a separate computer, it still requires the same monthly data charges as a tethered tablet or laptop. AT&T tries to justify this by saying the dock is more capable than a netbook. More likely, AT&T recognizes that modular computing is a threat to the carrier’s existing business model, which charges a premium to connect computers and tablets to its network. Rather than rock the boat, AT&T made tethering mandatory.

In a perfect world, wireless subscribers would pay one price for a bunch of data, accessible on any device, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, laptop or Lapdock, and not have to worry about secondary charges for tethering. I’m hoping some carriers come around to that way of thinking by the time Motorola releases its next batch of docks.