The death of the Lapdock: The post-PC future that won't be

The device that gave the post-PC vision a face is abandoned, but a variation of its promise could well survive

In spring 2011, the Motorola Mobility Lapdock gave a face to the post-PC notion that mobile computing would simply become computing, replacing for many the traditional PC and laptop with something new. It was a "have your cake and eat it, too" product: a dumb laptop into which you plugged the Atrix 4G Android smartphone for access to a large screen, full keyboard, trackpad, and -- perhaps most important at the time -- a destop-quality Web browser. Unlike with the Chromebook unveiled by Google around the same time, you didn't lose the ability to run apps locally. You could in fact run Android apps and access the Internet and its cloud services such as Google Docs at the same time via the Lapdock.

In the year that has followed, the Lapdock faltered, with Motorola going through several iterations that first shrunk it too small and then grew it too large. The most recent hardware also felt cheap, and the price seemed high for what you got. The original Lapdock had many limitations, but it charted a course that was very compelling in those early days of tablets. Unfortunately, it got stuck early on in a muddled track.

[ Hands-on with the first generation of post-PC devices: the Lapdock, Chromebook, and iPad. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

The Lapdock is now essentially dead. The new Motorola Atrix HD smartphone revealed yesterday doesn't support the Lapdock or the WebTop software that tied it and Android together. Motorola isn't saying that the Lapdock is dead (nor that it is alive), but of course it is dead. The Atrix 4G ushered in the Lapdock, and the Atrix HD is ushering it out.

The Lapdock as currently designed deserves to die, but the concept is still valid. And we may not need a Lapdock-style device to get that future.

For example, in the meantime, Apple has significantly improved the Safari Web browser, making it the most compatible of all mobile browsers with the desktop experience. It's not there yet, but each version of iOS gets us much closer. And Bluetooth keyboards' ubiquity, coupled with the ability to connect to a VGA, DVI, or HDMI monitor, means most people can turn it into a PC when needed. (Ironically, there are as yet no DisplayPort adapters to connect an iPad to Apple's flagship Thunderbolt Display monitor.) Also, iOS's built-in mirroring lets you make the connection without a cable -- as long as you have an Apple TV, of course.

An evolved iPad is pushing in the direction of the post-PC computer that the Lapdock signified. Android tablets are not as advanced in either their Web browser compatibility or their ability to connect to external displays, but that platform is following Apple's lead and will probably get there one day. It's also savvier about alternative pointing devices, which iOS ignores.

Then there's Chrome OS, Google's Web-only computing environment that shipped to very poor sales in the form of the Chromebook laptop. That version of the post-PC vision has failed because it doesn't let you work locally or use rich apps that so far cloud services do not deliver. Google keeps promising that local editing is coming soon (it's been in beta for more than a year), and it may actually occur some day.

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