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Making the Lapdock Useful [Opinion]

One of the most interesting yet useless accessories to the Droid Bionic is the lapdock. When I first saw it at CES I thought it had some potential even though I was astounded that it came with Firefox instead of Chrome. As the reviews came out and I finally spent some time with it, it became obvious that it was hardly useful between the half-baked OS and the horrible mouse and keyboard. That said, I do think that Motorola had a great idea with a bad implementation.

As phones become more powerful and limitations are breached, we’ll still have the issue of trying to do something on a small screen that works better on a larger screen. Motorola’s lapdock and desktop adapter are both trying to give users other form factors to interact with their content on their phones. The problem is, I don’t think Motorola really understands what problem they’re trying to solve (if any). 

I’ve never had the desire to use my phone on a larger screen, except for something like a game. I think that is why many people avoided the original Galaxy Tab and waited for Honeycomb – they want a different experience on different form factors. Google’s UI makes sense on a phone, but it doesn’t translate in a mouse and keyboard implementation. Motorola’s attempt to remedy that issue with an application dock and Firefox (seriously, how did Andy Rubin not demand they make the browser Chrome?) gave the illusion of a desktop experience without really delivering.

I think the problem that a laptop or desktop implementation needs to address is twofold: notifications and applications. When I’m working on my computer I usually have my Gmail and TweetDeck running in Chrome to notify me about new emails and replies on Twitter. The problem is, I usually have my phone right next to me as well for phone calls and text messages. For phone things that’s fine, but I end up having a notification on my phone and on my desktop for new tweets or emails. The Gmail notification will disappear on my phone once I check my email on my desktop, which is fantastic, but the Twitter notification will stay there until I dismiss it regardless of what application or website I use to read my tweets. This notification problem is only multiplied when you add a tablet to the mix. Instead of finding my multiple devices giving me increased productivity, I find that I’m dismissing notifications left and right instead of getting things done.

The other problem that needs to be solved is the problem with applications on lapdock and deskdock form factors. The ASUS Transformer represents one possible solution: use a mouse and keyboard on Honeycomb. This solution may fit some users’ needs, but I don’t think it’s the best solution. A second solution would be for Google to develop their own desktop OS like Windows, OS X, or Linux for lapdocks to boot into. At this stage in the game, however, I don’t think Google sees any value in creating their own desktop OS. Because everything is slowly becoming more mobile, I think Google will continue to push Android and the third option: Chrome OS.

I’ll be among the first to say that there are some serious limitations to Chrome, but I’ve also found that the majority of the time I don’t have anything open on my MacBook, netbook, or desktop save Chrome. When I need to sit down and write a paper for class I still open up Microsoft Word, but if Google Docs offered more functionality then I would have no reason to use Word. I know for a lot of people they need larger apps like QuickBooks, Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro to really be productive, but I don’t see any reason why Chrome couldn’t fit the needs to most users. As our computing experiences continue to move to the web and storage issues continue to be solved by the cloud with various services I think many people will be able to move to a Chrome only experience.

I know I would feel more inclined to try a lapdock form factor if it booted into Chrome and my phone’s notifications were tied into the system. It is not a one size fits all solution, but that kind of thing won’t exist until Windows Phone 7 devices are powerful enough to boot Windows on a connected device. Even then, by the time cell phones are powerful enough to handle running a full separate OS like Windows I imagine more and more companies will be making versions of their applications that are web-only. I think there will come a time where Internet speeds will stop barring innovation and where people will be able to have full desktop applications like QuickBooks or Photoshop run in their browser.

Many of these things are still far off, but a good first step to resolving these problems with notifications and making lapdock and deskdock form factors useful would be to use Chrome OS. I think there will always be a place for a mouse and keyboard form factor because touch doesn’t always make sense. As computing continues to become more mobile and as technology improves, we may eventually be able to have one device that connects to different form factors.

What do you think? Would you be more inclined to buy a lapdock or desktop dock if it ran Chrome OS? Do you think things will continue to move to the web, or will there always be a place for operating systems like Windows, OS X, and Linux?

  • http://profiles.google.com/rhippert02 Russell Hippert

    Application support? There was a project since September 29th 2011 that added OpenOffice, GIMP, VLC and Pidgin (chat client) to Webtop as well as support for other applications. It was supposed to be released for locked phones as well but due to lack of donations the project was killed and all links are dead.

  • Stephen Partington

    Right now the the rumors and plans of webdoc 3.0 being the ability to flip between the phone and tablet modes of ICS this will offer the best utilization of those resources. making the device a much more useful tool overall. that way there is no lost resources, but you can have a keyboard for larger documents or email rounds.so for things like netflix, email, remote desktop you have a larger screen, but when you are mobile you have that interface.
    usable. After looking at a buddies G-Nexus with a rom that does this, including a “hybrid” mode i am quite excited for this possibility. but the touchpad is annoying, the bluetooth travelmouse i have i think is a must have for this to work well.

  • Rono1904

    Dude, I’m using my lapdock right now and it works wonders. I use web based Linux applications for web development, on the go! “Not useful because it an uncomfortable mouse and keyboard”? First of all that is hardly what determines a computers usefulness. Secondly, once you get used to it, it is same as any other. I get a lot of work done on this puppy. It does a much, much more than just make your screen bigger. The Linux platform is compatible with just about everything Windows and Mac has to offer. Limited storage capacity can be a problem. Simply solved by transferring data to a storage device and using web based applications.  

  • Guest

    Just found out about the Lapdock, and I am sorely disappointed that it isn’t ChromeOS based.  Seriously?  Motorola, owned by Google, isn’t using Chrome?!

  • Anonymous

    tinyurl.com/2df4ccp

  • Anonymous

    I use mine as a LTE laptop that I don’t pay extra monthly service for. Gmail in firefox is great, and google docs is great as well. I work in procurement, so for work it’s been amazing. On LTE browsing and accessing info, email, and whether in meetings on the 70th floor of the Empire State, or on the beach at the Delano in South Beach (done both) without having to pay anything extra, is pure bliss.

    No idea why ppl diss it so much. And I got mine for $160 new on launch day ($100 auto credit and then 20% off). $160 for a magnesium LTE (for life) netbook, what’s a better deal?

  • http://www.DavidPat.com David Pat

    Price price price go lower

  • http://twitter.com/brianlpowers Brian Powers

    I have been using my Lapdock as a laptop replacement for a few weeks now. I leave my laptop at home running for remote desktop login. So far I really haven’t noticed any issues with decreased productivity as long as I am focused on one thing at a time – limited memory issue.

    When I’m not working, I use it for emulator gaming (PS, N64, GBA, Genesis, SNES, NES) and Netflix mostly. I have my Bionic setup with a PS3 controller which makes the emulator experience SO much more enjoyable.

    Making the lapdock useful? I would say mine is proving to be more useful than I could have hoped for!

  • Anonymous

    for one, standardize lapdocks (at least within a carrier or manufacturer) so customers don’t have to shill out a couple hundred bucks every time they get a new device.  and two, stop nickel and diming customers by requiring tethering plans with lapdocks.  that’s just stupid.  really stupid.  for little to no added value, you’re charging a full-on tethering plan price.  brilliant idea.

    speaking of which, why wouldn’t anyone just buy one hotspot and use that with their tablets, phones, laptops, etc.  these carriers are pieces of sh*t when it comes to this kind of stuff.

    • CaptainKGB

      Neither Lapdock or Hd Dock require tethering on Verizon. I use the HD Dock with a kvm switch at work, because security and IT restrict web access to the point of uselessness, and track your time and sites you visit.  So with the moto I can browse with a 23″ monitor, USB full size keyboard and mouse, and not be violating TOS, or hacking my work machine to bypass security.  This is probably my favorite feature, kind of surprised everyone feels it is useless.

      • Bubba

        So can I use the Lapdock as a monitor keyboard mouse? That would be very useful for me as an IT guy who configures brand new servers. Sometimes I don’t have access to keyboard monitor and mouse.

    • Anonymous

      Who in the world is charging for tethering plans for the lapdock??  Verizon doesn’t!  

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.lloyd Cameron Lloyd

    I like my lapdock, I use it in conjunction with my desktop. I use it for entertainment purposes FB twitter slingbox email etc, i wanted a xoom but didnt want the double notifications like explained above and didnt want to deal with 2 different devices. My lapdock works just fine for what i need it to do and paying only 200 for it was about half of what i was going to pay for a real laptop that I wouldnt really be using to its full potential

  • http://twitter.com/Pollita_Droid Erica M.

    At first when I saw the lapdock I thought it was a must have but after playing around with it and I wasn’t to impressed. As far as work, I can get most done off my Bionic and I have my Macbook. For school of course I use my Macbook. The idea of Google Docs becoming full functional would be amazing. To be able to work and edit papers off my bionic then back on my Mac would make it so much easier. 

    I do believe that Android would be the first one to be able to cleanly make a transition of phone to computer, and I hope when they do make it it’s Mac friendly. Also, the lapdock having Firefox instead of Chrome was a main factor for me not loving it enough to want to buy. The Asus tablet with the keyboard sounds most reasonable but I’m in the market for a honeycomb tablet but I haven’t fully fallen in love with one yet. My Galaxy tab is used for web surfing when I don’t feel like pulling out my Mac, but now that Netflix’s works on it my partner is been really putting in the hours on it. 

    I agree that bigger screens are usually for games. When I first got my tablet I played angry birds on it for a few hours and it’s also great to have in the car when going on trips to keep the kids entertained. To keep a child entertained for long rides alone is amazing. Since my little tablet is 3G only I’ve never had any problems with it but at home it’s always on WiFi.

  • Mark Lewis

    Considering Google’s plans to get Chrome running on Android, a ChromeOS lapdock makes sense, especially if a lapdock doesn’t count as tethering.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nathanielnewmanmusic Nathaniel Newman

    I used the HDMI Webtop hack on my Bionic last night. Tried to watch Hulu on Firefox. (using WiFi) video quality even at medium was poor. Choppy and not really good.

    • Bill Morrow

      I was able to run the Netflix app on the bionic, flip it to landscape on the lapdock and then go full screen and it worked great.  Maybe try that?

    • Anonymous

      Lapdock is $160, not $299.

      • http://twitter.com/JoshinMinn Josh

        Where are you getting it for $160?

        • Anonymous

          Verizon corporate Store on launch day. I always find it crazy that bloggers spend so much text complaining about the MSRP of things, but if you buy stuff on launch day, it’s almost never that price. It’s always been lower in my experience. And MUCH lower in this instance. Just but stuff on launch day.

  • Anonymous

    My personal take:  I don’t want to buy another computer with so many “smartphone” options out there.  What do I want my system to provide….Larger view of the internet, email & videos. Capabilities of producing and editing documents and spreadsheets.  Although not a major game player, a good graphics system and finally, what the Bionic is promoting, the mirror function.  For Instance….Last night, my satellite was down, so we watched a netflix movie via wifi on the laptop to my projector.  A lot of work just to set-up.

  • Mctypething

    Why would Andy Rubin give a 2nd thought to the browser used on a product that Moto might sell 100 of. I’m sure he has bigger fish to fry.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      Because Google has to approve every device running Android and this would definitely be a piece of the approval process. Remember the whole Skyhook debacle? http://thisismynext.com/2011/05/12/google-android-skyhook-lawsuit-motorola-samsung/

  • Alan Paone

    From playing with an asus transformer, I got the impression that honeycomb is pretty close to working with a mouse and keyboard. I don’t know what would need to be changed, but it doesn’t seem like much. If google already has docking supported in ICS, I wouldn’t doubt they’ve improved the mouse and keyboard experience. Since chrome is coming with ICS, we’re basically getting the best of both worlds: a desktop browser on a big screened phone/tablet UI. I personally prefer the look of most honeycomb apps to the apps on my desktop, so if phones can run mouse/tablet apps on the bugger dock screens, we could have something awesome.

    • Alan Paone

      Google has a long history of taking motorola features and making them useful, and there were rumors of docks flying around awhile back. The announcement was supposed to be today, dammit!

    • https://plus.google.com/113924127356889315682?tab=ch#113924127356889315682/posts//p/pub Chris Jeske

      [scrubs] hehe… bugger dock screens… [/scrubs]

  • http://davesdroid.blogspot.com NadTwist

    I rather like my lapdock and did a quick webtop/lapdock review last week.   Chrome and apps (not web links)  would certainly improve the experience.

    http://davesdroid.blogspot.com/2011/10/motorola-droid-bionic-webtop-and.html

  • Gordol

    “This notification problem is only multiplied when you add a tablet to
    the mix. Instead of finding my multiple devices giving me increased
    productivity, I find that I’m dismissing notifications left and right
    instead of getting things done.”

    That is why I have push notifications turned OFF on apps like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      I want to have push notifications on all my devices, but I want them to work like Gmail – disappear when they’ve been dismissed on one device. 

  • Anonymous

    In my opinion, this thing is a gimick that adds on more cash to what you already have to pay when you upgrade.. its just a blank screen and a keyboard that is completely useless unless you dock that specific phone to it.. then when you do, its laggy, one browser, no computing power like a windows, mac, laptop.. cant download software for pc’s etc.. your better off paying 250.00 bucks for a tiny netbook and you will get 100 times more out of it lol.  My friend got suckered in by a Verizon Rep to buy one and now he wants to get rid of it since its nothing more than a toy to show off rather than be productive in different variations like a pc, laptop would.

  • Anonymous

    I have a Asus EeePad Transformer and the dock is VERY useful on that.  I take it everywhere and it sure beats waiting for my Netbook to boot or unsuspend.

    Also, I checked out the dock you can get for the Bionic and I was actually quite impressed with it.  I, myself, just don’t know how much utility can come from ONLY running a browser.  Maybe if someone shipped me a Chromebook or something I may change my mind.  I think the Lapdock may be better once Ice Cream sandwich is shipped and the Bionic updated or a new lapdock/phone combo comes out.

    • Bill Morrow

      Netflix works pretty well in the full screen mode on the LapDock

      • Anonymous

        Nice!  Yeah I like Netflix on my EeePad too!

        • Bill Morrow

          Yeah I use it on my Xoom also, but I was happy to see it worked through the Lapdock.

    • http://twitter.com/Pollita_Droid Erica M.

      but who knows how long we would have to wait for ICS to actually come to the Bionic. If ever.. 

      • http://profiles.google.com/bcdurden Brian Durden

        OMAP 4430 is the reference platform, so the wait on ICS shouldn’t be very long.  Same goes for Droid 3

  • Anonymous

    I’m in need of a new computer, and I think for me the perfect set up would be 1) an android phone that could dock into a honeycomb tablet that could itself dock into a keyboard for chrome OS and 2) a full desktop windows machine that i could remote log into when I need to use adobe suite or ms office.

    I’ve spent some serious time with Chrome OS. I think it’s great for what it is, and probably doesn’t require any more power than phones run on these days. And google just put out a remote log-in service for it. I think the technical challenge would be to make it so you still have your phone running android when you’re in chrome OS–because you still need to be able to take phone calls.

    • Anonymous

      a mix between a lapdock and the transformer would be nice, a phone that docs into a tablet that has a keyboard/mouse dock. if only there was an app like winrar or 7zip for android and the abilty to have 2 open so i could drag and drop images i would be set, i would rarely need to boot my pc.

  • http://twitter.com/Urboyissues Yourissues

    Chrome is my main browser and would love to have my phone really tired into it.. Imagine if you could restore a bricked phone by plugging it into you lapdock cause you saved your restore files there. Chrome should be the default for Android and can’t wait till that is the case

  • Anonymous

    I’ve used Chrome OS for some time, now (beta tester with the CR48) and it does about 98% of what I need in a computer. About the only thing it doesn’t do is physical media. GDocs is great for word processing, spreadsheets, etc. (doesn’t hurt that it all synchs to my Android), Picnik/Google+/Picasa work for my photos, and so on. My only qualms with it were that it had no native media player and no offline mode for GDocs. This has been fixed, so it really does do about all I need it to. A decent laptop dock running Chrome OS (which would integrate with your GMail, browser, GVoice, etc.) would be a big draw for me, if I didn’t already have a Chromebook.

  • Bill Morrow

    Personally I have the Xoom, the Bionic and the LapDock.  The Xoom and I have had a tumultuous working relationship.  At first using it along with the logmein app was great for accessing work content on the go, and has been a great friend in that regard.  My main problem was the 3g connection and always needing to carry around a mifi, or hotspot my phone.  I am hoping once my 4g upgrade is completed I will no longer run into this problem.

    The LapDock has been nice while in airports and on airplanes, (when wifi was permitted), for responding to e-mails and web surfing.  I purchased a usb wireless mouse for it and that combination has been fairly nice.  I am interested to see what will happen when ICS becomes a reality and what Motorola will be able to do with the LapDock combination, will we be able to see a tablet like experience?  I think that is what we are looking at with the upcoming Galaxy Nexus, or at least what I am hoping we will see.

    My vision of what Motorola is trying to do is quite ambitious.  I feel their ultimate goal is a world where the phones are the computers, (still some years away from this being practical), and between a combination of desktop docks, the cloud, lapdocks and tablet docking you will see a portable world where you can plug your phone in anywhere and have your home/work computing experience sitting right in front of you.

    That’s what I am hoping for at least.

    • Bill Morrow

      Forgot to mention, but, Netflix works pretty well in the full screen mode on the LapDock

      • Anonymous

        My netflix looks like crap on my lapdock..any special settings that anyone know of to help out?

        • Bill Morrow

          Had to shut everything else off

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Sosa/635420640 Kevin Sosa

    There will always be a need for a full OS for some users.  Besides, the cloud is only awesome when it’s available and you have full access to it (bandwidth).  The webtop idea is pretty awesome though, I think what they really need to pull off is the syncing.  Think of seamlessly going from phone, to webtop, to laptop/desktop, to tablet.  This is direction we need to be going.

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      Exactly. We need to be able to have everything on every device. This is just one way to solve that problem. 

  • Anonymous

    The thing about my phone is that I want it to not be tied up as another device. Hence, I would prefer to just have a separate tablet then dock my phone 

    • http://ronoffringa.wordpress.com Ron Offringa

      That is definitely another possible solution, but I think we’ll have some better options as processor technologies evolve (think Air Play on iOS). 

    • Anonymous

      Why? You could just put your phone app on speaker or get a bluetooth headset and then keep using the tablet for whatever

      • Anonymous

        You are probably right. I guess its that I’m coming from the OG Droid where if you text make calls, and try to Navigate or Tether the phone just can’t handle it

  • Anonymous

    i would also like to see webtop something i can do with any PC. I should be able to plug my phone in to my computer (either usb, or a motorola adapter) and a full screen app launches on PC with the phones’ webtop

    that way i can use my “phone laptop” on my webtop dock i bought, or any other PC/laptop

    • John

      there already is something like this: Remote Web Desktop
      https://market.android.com/details?id=net.xdevelop.rm

      • Anonymous

        this just blew my mind, thanks!

        WHY HAS THIS NOT BEEN FEATURED BY DROID LIFE!?

        • Bill Morrow

          There is also an app called logmein.  Costs a little bit, but it is insane.  There are a few other apps out there that do the same thing, but logmein allows you to get in regardless of firewalls, external ip’s or another other connection.

          • https://plus.google.com/113924127356889315682?tab=ch#113924127356889315682/posts//p/pub Chris Jeske

            And let’s not forget the bloatware awesomeness of Zumocast.  That program discovery makes all the other crap on the VZW phones tolerable.  Seamless access to whatever you share. … friggin LOVE Zumocast…

          • Jarekt

            Best of all is TeamViewer. There’s no place for all advantage but it’s free and works even better than logmein. The best VNC alternative out there. 

        • John

          there are a lot of apps. they don’t cover too many individual ones ;)
          works pretty good tho (obviously, wifi being the best option)

  • Anonymous

    if my android phone could run eclipse (or any full-featured java ide) i would never need a laptop

    • Bill Morrow

      I cannot agree more.  I salivate at the very idea of this.

      • Anonymous

        it’s settled then. There must be an open source community effort for a mobile eclipse!

  • Anonymous

    My Lord, kinda large for the front page. 

  • DroidzFX

    Chrome OS? I need a little more than a browser. I like my files being stored locally also.

    • http://twitter.com/BiggiePhat JG

      they could be local on your phone…phone will be used like an external HD

      • Anonymous

         Bingo!!!

    • Mark Lewis

      ChromeOS can store and access local files.