Motorola Webtop: A Magic Bullet for Google?

By | Apr 26, 2012

Most discussion of Google's assimilation of Motorola has focused on the treasure trove of patents that Google will acquire. But an actual implementation--not just a legal patent right--could turn out to be crucial to Google in its competition with Apple and Microsoft.

The technology, which Motorola calls Webtop, is a "lapdock" that allows a Motorola Atrix smartphone to operate as a laptop computer. A lapdock could be just the thing to smooth the way for the much-heralded post-PC era--by allowing users to perform PC-style input on their mobile devices.

For Google, having this technology already in hand provides a big head start in giving users this merging capability. And for IT managers at midsize firms, Webtop fills in a crucial gap by allowing mobile users to interact effectively with enterprise-strength applications.

A Surprise at CES

As reported by Jason Hiner at CNET, the unveiling of the Atrix phone and its "lapdock" provided a rare genuine surprise at last year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). But its full significance only became clear with Google's planned acquisition of Motorola.

Mobile device manufacturers won't like to hear this, but mobile-gadget hardware--unless it comes from Apple--is pretty generic. The most important aspect of an Android phone is Android, not the manufacturer's name. And the "lapdock" capability of Webtop will provide a crucial boost to Android.

For all the talk of a post-PC era, mobile devices--even the iPad--have thus far fallen far short of offering a true PC replacement. Yes, Apple fanboys and fangirls sometimes brag about blogging or doing other work on their iPads, but it remains essentially a gimmick. The key problem isn't processing power, but the human hand and eye.

Form Factors

Typing on a cramped touch-screen "keyboard" is just plain uncomfortable and inconvenient as is viewing and manipulating information on an undersized screen. These human elements are the key to form factors, and form factor has been preventing mobile devices from being used for serious work. What fits handily in your pocket does not magically expand into a robustly workable laptop.

Motorola's "lapdock" is not magic, but it could be the next best thing. Users can insert a smartphone into the dock and then have a real keyboard and laptop-size screen to work with.

For the casual consumer who does little actual work online, this capability is hardly critical. But it could be transformative for IT in the consumerization and "bring your own device" (BYOD) era. It gives workers the ability to actually use their personal mobile devices to perform tasks beyond checking messages or sending brief texts.

For IT managers at midsize firms, this may be a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, it does bring the BYOD era that much closer, with all its security headaches. On the other hand, it means that workers in the field can be more productive. Firms may also end up saving on company-provided laptops.

It is also one more reason to pay attention to Google Apps and to view Google as a major player in business productivity tools.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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