The Webtop concept flop: Was Motorola just too early?

The Webtop concept flop: Was Motorola just too early?

Summary: Don't be surprised if Microsoft, Google, HP or even Apple picks up the Webtop baton at some point in the future.


Motorola Mobility's Webtop concept has been killed by Google, but the technology still could have legs. The big question is whether the Webtop was an idea ahead of its time or nutty to start with.

CNET's Roger Cheng confirms that Google has killed the Webtop. Motorola's Webtop, Google's Chromebook and Android just didn't mesh well together. It didn't help that the people behind the Webtop all left Motorola Mobility.

The concept of the Webtop revolved around using a smartphone as a central processing unit. It would then plug into a laptop-dock and become a PC. The Webtop, like many technologies was a critical success, but a mainstream flop. As Adrian Kingsley-Hughes noted, the price for the dock just wasn't right. And beyond road warriors, the market for folks that want to bridge a smartphone and laptop just wasn't all that large.

Credit: Jason Hiner

I had tested a few of Motorola's Webtop phones and docks and thought they were handy---a consolidation device if you will. However, these Webtops were clearly first generation efforts and not cut out to be Google's secret weapon.

Overall, it may be just a little too early for the Webtop concept. Here's a look at players who could pick up the Webtop baton.

  • Microsoft: Windows 8 is designed to work on multiple screens---tablets, PCs and smartphones. Given that unified kernel the key piece is in place to do a Webtop device consolidation. The Surface has two use cases and ultimately there could be a connection between the phone and a laptop.
  • Apple: If Apple took Motorola Mobility's concept of a Webtop, it would look better. Apple could couple iOS iPhones and iPads into a MacBook Air-ish design.
  • Google: Android and Chrome OS have to merge at some point right? When that inevitably happens, Google may attempt the Webtop smartphone meets dock play.
  • HP: HP has said it will make smartphones at some point, probably in 2013. To make any kind of splash, HP may want to ponder a Webtop scheme. HP could be that bridge between Windows 8 screen sizes. For good measure, HP could dust off WebOS somehow.

There are loose ends to nail down for the Webtop to get its sea legs. For starters, wireless charging would help. The dock with the phone was a power drain if it weren't plugged in. And then there's pricing. The dock needs to be pretty much a freebie. The Webtop concept seems appealing to road warriors, but may have just been too early.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Smartphones

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  • Will the cloud kill webtop?

    A webtop is basically a fancy dock that converts your phone into a laptop. That's useful if all your data lives on your phone and you sometimes want to be able to maniuplate it with a bigger screen. But if your data actually lives out in the cloud, is there any real benefit to a dock that turns your phone into a laptop? Are you really saving that much money with this dock by sharing a few core components (processor, RAM storage) with your phone?
    • Precisely my thoughts

      Even though I personally do not use/trust the cloud beyond e-mail, I find the whole webtop concept cludgy.

      I have more than 2TB of data. That would never fit on my phone anyways. I am still stuck with off site back up of my desktop drives, and I do not see that changing anytime soon. Without that data volume, I would most likely choose the cloud over a webtop.
      • Tap to sign in!

        Same, I would much rather have cloud based terminals that I tap my phone to, to sign in to my services and use. Rather than plugging in my device, Google's Chrome OS concept could come into play here I guess. Tap to sign into your Google Account, then enter a 4 digit pin. Either on the phone or on the secondary computer. The only advantages this concept has is, all your data stays on your device and it's cheaper to mass produce monitors and keyboards than low powered full desktop computers/ laptops...
    • Component cost

      I think Dropbox got it right - and Apple followed - which is that I don't want my stuff IN the Cloud (there are too many places I can't access 3G) - but nor do I want it locked into a specific device.

      I just want it in front of me, when I need it, and not have to think about where it is stored (whether physically OR in my Google account).

      But I will say that when I'm sat using a 23" screen, I'm pretty sure I want a computer more powerful than my phone connected to it.
    • Uh, no

      Apparently you have not tried Webtop. It was a second os partition of linux that ran Firefox and allowed you full access the phone (Android) as well. It was a mouse and keyboard oriented UI like a PC. "Webtop" is a misnomer of sorts. The phone had an HDMI port for connection to a TV, display or dock. A BT keyboard and mouse were also usable. The dock is an optional way to display.

      Webtop really isn't needed anymore since ICS with Chrome and high resolution UIs in Android where simple mirror mode on the hdmi port suffices to get stuff done.
  • Better hardware

    The Atom needs to be smaller faster and consume less power. Maybe in the next generation or two of intel and arm chips we will have the hardware that could make this fly. When you sit at desktop you expect it to behave like one.
  • I just hoped

    They patented a nice Maginot+ line around that with few hundred battle hardened lawyers to defend it.
    Otherwise we know that Apple, that invented everything will sue the *^&^ out of them. With or without the weaker ally, MS.
    • MS as the weaker ally? MS is already ahead here

      in terms of an OS that runs on tablets, Phones, and PC's.

      No need to resort to gimmicks like this.
      William Farrel
      • Actually

        Actually, the only commerically available OS that runs on phones, tablet and laptops right now is Android. I have many apps (Opera Mobile and QuickOffice, to name just two) that install and run just fine on my HTC Evo 4G, My HTC Flyer and my ASUS Transformer TF300.

        Is the TF300 a laptop? Well, when docked it's got a physical keyboard, and an actual mouse. So you tell me.
    • LOL

      You Apple haters are so funny!
    • Apple won't

      Apple doesn't even let you make calls on cellular capable ipads, or use songs on your phone as a ringtone.
      there is no way Apple even wants you to rationalise devices in this way.
      They will be the last to do this as it will just cannibalise their own platforms.
  • Don't count on HP to revitalize the Webtop concept anytime soon.

    According to published reports, HP will just need to survive financially during the next two years (Win 8 products will help achieve that goal) instead of investing in new technologies (like WebOS) and hope for a good financial return on investment.
  • Webtop

    In all honesty, the Webtop failed because on top of the pricing, it had virtually zero functionality. Moto should have leveraged something like a complete lightweight linux distro that would allow you to create/edit documents, edit photos, etc... and without having to be online to do so. This, of course, was never going to happen, because of the push towards cloud computing. It's great to do things on the Internet, but sometimes, you just want to have an application that does not depend on Internet connectivity and at other times, you just don't have one.
    • My take

      My take is that a big part of the reason nobody wanted to buy the bock, was that Verizon charged you for a second data plan if you used the dock. That right there killed the biggest potential benefit of this device. If you're going to charge me a second time for data, I might as well just pay for tethering and use whatever device I want.
  • I love my lapdock!

    Webtop 3.0 completely changed my opinion of the lapdock. I find that now it is actually useful. And with support for multiple users coming in Android 4.2, I think it has huge potential. Now what it really needs is the ability to use the lapdock without a physical connection, possibly via a combination of WIFI Direct and Bluetooth. Don't underestimate the benefit of having one central processing device. If it wasn't for some industry specific software that doesn't play well with anything but Windows, I would almost be ready to ditch Microsoft.
  • Bait and switch

    That's exactly why my Atrix lapdock gathers dust in the corner. After being upsold when buying the phone, my 300 dollar keyboard and screen can't be used on my existing unlimited data plan, so even as a road warrior accessory it's been emasculated beyond utility. Really cool to have a large screen, extended battery and USB mouse for my phone... really uncool that its only utility is Angry Birds.
  • Theres no need for dedicated dock components. Just pair a wireless keyboard

    wireless mouse, wireless charging, and wireless display with the phone. You have a smartphone powered desktop with off the shelf components that wont become useless when the smartphone vendor discontinues the line or changes the connector or whatever. And it would work with any smartphone. And if you used an intel airmont phone and WP8.x MS could make it run real windows desktop apps. It wouldnt have to be a dumb webtop or just a remote terminal into another box.
    Johnny Vegas
  • x86 chip in a phone = full desktop anywhere

    The Medfield Atom chip now in phones is not far removed from the Clover Trail Atom being used in these new full tablets with Win 8. What that means is that you can have a full PC with both touch interfaces and the desktop resident in one device. Hook it up in some way to a larger device - it could dock physically, but it could also be completely wireless.

    And this concept works pretty well with Win 8, as well as with Android and Ubuntu or some combination of Android - Ubuntu which has already been demonstrated.

    So that's what I would want, as Webtop is pretty anemic compared to the above.
  • Tradeoffs favor thin client, user facing netbooks

    In any trade study alternate concepts should be optimized. Motorola tried but the dock is a dead duck. Docking tablets even when optimized lose to thin client laptops like future chrome books because:
    1) if you want a keyboard you want a real keyboard.
    2) power mgmt and batteries are such that you don't have to dock for power.
    3) touch screens and GUIs will soon be optional with voice and gesture controls correlated to read my lips.
    4) if you have WiFi the world wide web and your cloud eg Google Drive or equivalent are all the comm you need.

    Low power PCs without touch screens could rule this market if Wintel were paying attention, instead of divorcing.
  • Ubuntu for Android

    You forgot to mention Ubuntu for Android.