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?