January 13, 2011

By itself, the Atrix was but one of the dozen or so large-screened Android smartphones that invaded CES 2011, but what really set it apart was its lapdock accessory. This clamshell combination of a full-sized keyboard, screen and battery allow the Atrix to function more like a Linux smartbook.

Extending the processing and connectivity of a smartphone to notebook proportions is, of course, not a new idea. The pre-Elevation Palm sort of tried it with the Foleo, which was a mostly independent device and in some ways a closer ancestor to the BlackBerry Playbook. Celio implemented it with the Redfly, although that product was tied to the unpopular Windows Mobile OS and later BlackBerry, where it was poorly integrated. Rather than a dock, both solutions were able to use bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth to pair the input and output enhancement to the phone. In the case of the Redfly, a cable could also be used.

The Atrix 4G lapdock solution seems like it will work better than those approaches, but in the excitement over a smartphone that can apparently transform into a laptop, I think we’ve been too quick to overlook the lapdock’s strange design, in which the Atrix is docked behind the screen. This allows for easy connection and disconnection of the smartphone, but it doesn’t allow for use of both screens simultaneously. More importantly, it doesn’t allow you to easily transport the docked Atrix within the lapdock. I’d be surprised if a competitor taking a crack at this didn’t make it so that the phone is inserted securely inside the clamshell, allowing for sufficient ventilation, of course.

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May 1, 2009

image Technologizer notes that the Foleo may be reincarnated running webOS, Palm’s new operating system. Like Harry McCracken, I was sympathetic to the idea of Foleo when it was announced and before the netbook craze hit full-force. However, the requirement to have a cell phone tethered to what was otherwise a functional client resulted in a split personality. In contrast, Celio Corp.’s REDFLY takes a better approach by turning the “laptop” into a thin client, and completely relying on the snartphone’s operating system and connectivity, but the applications are not there yet for it to be a consumer product.)

A webOS-powered Foleo could have many of the characteristics that I ascribed to a potential iPhone OS-based clamshell without some of the iPhone’s limitations. Palm, of course, does not have the issue with smaller keyboards that Apple seems to, and webOS merrily supports multitasking in a way that is more visually akin to a PC user interface.. webOS is even slated to get support for desktop Flash nest year. And Palm has no fear about cannibalizing more expensive notebook PC sales (although it must be cognizant of netbook pricing, an issue that blindsided the initial Foleo).

Still, if the Foleo returns, it probably won’t be for a while. There is just too much opportunity for Palm in the smartphone space and the competition is thick. But it’s certainly an opportunity once the company has covered its international bases with webOS smartphones. Until then, feel free to go back to obsessing over Android-based netbooks.

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September 26, 2008

Engadget’s been harshing on the Celio Redfly pretty severely since its debut; I suppose anything that’s even calls to mind the Foleo is going to leave a bad taste in their editorial mouths. When I first saw the device, though, I thought that $200 would be a key price point for something marketed as a smartphone accessory, so Celio will certainly pick up some interesting data points in October. At least some commenters on the Engadget post announcing the promotion think they might give the device a try at $199.

I’ve also been trying out the Redfly for a couple of weeks. It’s definitely not for everyone at this point and most consumers would be better served by a netbook that is closer to its (non-promotional) price. But one glance at the company Web site’s mention of “TCO” tells you that the company is targeting enterprise users for now. At least it is solidly positioned as a terminal, unlike the Foleo that tried to be both a smartphone companion and a new platform.

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December 10, 2007

15-inch MacBook ProWith the 2008 Macworld Expo around the chronological corner and Apple finally in (and by the looks of initial success, for the long term) the cell phone and set-top categories, rumor-mongers are running out of easy targets. One of these is an Apple ultraportable or MacBook mini. It’s not an unreasonable one at all as Sony, for example, is already in the sub-12" market.

In general, ultraportable notebooks have been slow sellers in the U.S. That was before the invasion of the cheap Asus EEE (and coming competitors) but Apple isn’t generally known for swooping in at the low end of the market.. Also, Sony has the right idea in embedding WWAN connectivity in its ultaportables; Apple, on the other hand, has even put off 3G in its cell phones. Still, Apple’s notebook market share continues to grow, so the timing may be right.

As I’ve written, Apple can take a few different paths here. The company could do a great job of something integrated with Foleo-like physical dimensions (sorry, 7" is just too small for OS X (and arguably other desktop operating systems, too), bundling an iWork suite for more of a mobile productivity appliance for $599. If it went this route, the device might not even be called a MacBook. But if Apple’s notebook family grows by shrinking next month, it’s far more likely that it will be a premium-priced 12" MacBook Pro with an SSD.

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