By Barry Levine / Mobile Tech Today. Updated October 08, 2012.
A smartphone that acts as the PC brains for a display and other peripherals, allowing a user to construct a laptop when needed. That was the idea behind Motorola's Android-based Webtop software and concept -- which has now been terminated.
Motorola Mobility, owned by Google, has announced that it is ending that software, which had been embedded in several smartphones, including the Droid RAZR, Droid 4, Droid Bionic and Photon 4G, but which never got very far with buyers. When a Webtop-enabled smartphone was connected to a Lapdock, it could act like a full-blown PC, to which peripherals could be added.
Not 'Strong Enough'
Motorola's demonstration of the Atrix 4G smartphone with Webtop software and the accompanying Lapdock at the 2011 Consumer Electronic Show attracted a great deal of media attention, and more than a few industry observers had suggested at the time that this was the future of smartphones and of laptops.
Motorola said in a recent statement that, "while consumers around the world have adopted Webtop and their concept spurred a lot of innovation in the industry, the adoption has not been strong enough to justify continued resources being allocated to developing Webtop on future devices."
One of the obstacles to acceptance was the price. With its Lapdock, the Atrix 2 was sold by AT&T for $500. Other reported problems included error-laden, bulky hardware implementations of the dock, and the decision to bury the smartphone behind the Lapdock -- meaning that the screen could not be viewed or accessed when it was used in laptop mode.
According to Web-based reports, it was Motorola Mobility's new owner, Google, that decided to end the Webtop concept. The theory is that Google is not completely ready to launch Android as an operating system for laptops, as it would need to do if Webtop got traction as a build-your-own laptop system.
Google reportedly does not see its Net-oriented, thin-client Chrome OS as its serious laptop operating system entry, and the technology giant, according to this thinking, knows that it will likely only have one shot for a laptop OS -- and it doesn't want to jump the gun with Webtop. Meanwhile, Android is beginning to add various desktop-like features.
Webtop was actually taken through release 3.0, which was a major revision of previous versions. The newest release took advantage of several features in Android 4.0, including the ability to dynamically change apps' resolution and to allow apps to run full-screen when in PC mode.
The Webtop concept originated with Motorola engineers in mid-2009, and the intention was to give a docked smartphone the full Firefox browser experience, as well as full Adobe Flash and multi-window multitasking.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, said that one of Webtop's key problems was that it was "too early to market." She compared it to Novell's embedded NetWare back in 1995, or Apple's early handheld Newton, both of which later re-emerged as mainstream product concepts.
DiDio also noted that, when Google bought Motorola Mobility, it "got the technology and the patents, but not the people," and that it was the engineers who had championed Webtop.