Not to get all gushy or anything, but I think one of Harry’s best opinion columns here was the one from March 2009 about how smartphones are destined to replace the PC, and how the comforts of full-sized computing — keyboard, mouse, monitor — will become dumb shells for our powerful handsets.
Motorola’s Atrix 4G is an indication that he’s right. The phone itself marks a technological leap, as one of several new Android handsets with dual-core processors, but the real revolution is an optional dock that acts like a laptop when the phone is plugged in. There’s also a separate HD dock for televisions and external monitors, with USB ports for full-sized keyboards and mouses. Ladies and gentlemen: your dumb shells.
When the smartphone is docked, it launches desktop software on the 11.6-inch laptop screen, with a full version of Mozilla’s Firefox browser and Adobe Flash 10.1. If you believe Google’s claim that we spend 90 percent of our computing time in the web browser, the Atrix dock is pretty close to being a complete laptop, and it can use Citrix’s virtualization services to access PC apps through the Internet. The dock software can also access the Android OS, so you can run apps in full screen.
The HD dock feeds 720p video to TVs or external monitors, and while it can access the laptop dock’s software and Web browser, it also has its own multimedia interface for quickly launching movies, music and photos.
Motorola’s Atrix is a potentially harmful development for wireless carriers, because while they’re trying to push more data plans on their users for laptops and tablets, the Atrix is the start of consolidation back to a single device. Why get a 3G netbook if your smartphone’s dumb shell performs almost all the same tasks?
And yet, AT&T will carry the Atrix when it launches this quarter. If AT&T doesn’t muck up the data pricing or charge a fortune for the docks, we might just get a little taste of the future in the next few months.