Webtop, We Hardly Knew Ye

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Motorola's Atrix phone and laptop dock are demoed at Germany's CeBIT computer show in February 2011

The most intriguing product announced at CES 2011 was Motorola’s Atrix, a 4G Android smartphone with an optional laptop dock. The dock looked and worked like a thin laptop with an 11.6″ screen, but didn’t have its own processor or storage. Instead, you stuck the phone in a slot behind the display, and it provided the brains–letting you run Android apps on a (relatively) large screen with a (reasonably) comfy QWERTY keyboard. Motorola called the software that made this possible Webtop.

I liked the idea. In fact, I had predicted something very much like it back in March 2009, in a blog post where I called it a dumb clamshell (and referenced Palm’s ill-fated Foleo, an early pass at the concept).

But when the Atrix and its Webtop laptop dock shipped, Motorola charged $500 for the dock–the same price you might pay for a basic Windows notebook. Worse, the software was buggy and sluggish. Even when Motorola kept with Webtop and cut the price, Webtop was more appealing in theory than reality.

So I wasn’t shocked to learn, via CNET’s Roger Cheng, that Motorola, now part of Google, is giving up on the concept.

Still, I think that the notion of using a largish screen and a laptop-style keyboard with a phone (and the phone’s data connection) makes sense. It’s just that:

  • It ought to be cheaper;
  • It shouldn’t be proprietary to one company’s phones;
  • It should be done wirelessly;
  • It needs to be really, really fast, smooth and reliable.

I’m not heartbroken by the end of Motorola’s Webtop dream: Even if I’d bought one of the Moto phones in question, I wouldn’t have sprung for the laptop dock. But I’d like to see someone take another shot. Maybe it’s a possible future direction for Google’s own Chrome OS?

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Seriously, have you heard anything of Asus's Padfone or is it only American companies that can innovate in your opinion?

It's outrageous that you say you'd like to see it in the future when it's out there and... just works.

I suggest you do some research and you'll find out that a company has managed to make this concept work really well (oh, and it updates its devices to new Android versions in a timely manner, unlike.... let me see, Motorola?).


I'm aware of the Padfone, and if I thought only American companies could innovate, the amount of stuff I'd have to write about would dramatically fall. I didn't mention it here because I haven't used it personally. (It isn't sold through any major U.S. retailers.)