Mobile migration, phase 2
ALMOST two years ago I wrote a column on how smartphones will eventually replace desktop and laptop computers. Last week Motorola revealed a product that takes us one step closer to that reality.
Of course, big screens and keyboards will be part of our computing lives for some time to come, but your phone will become the actual computer, connecting to external input and output devices at your home, office and elsewhere.
And that is pretty much what the Motorola Atrix does.
The device was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011 in Las Vegas from where I've just returned. The Atrix will go on sale via cellular operator AT&T in the USA and will hit other markets soon under a different name.
The Atrix is a powerful smartphone based on Google's Android operating system - but what makes it unique are its large form-factor computing docks.
The Atrix can be docked with a desktop-size screen and keyboard or with a laptop dock. In either case the Atrix becomes your computer. The laptop dock cannot be used without the Atrix.
It is merely a screen, keyboard and touchpad with some basic guts. It does not have its own storage or CPU.
This is a cost effective solution that allows you to carry a single smartphone that transforms into a desktop or laptop computer.
Of all the announcements at CES last week, the Atrix was the most indicative of where personal computing is going.
Motorola also announced its own tablet device called the Xoom, also running the Android operating system. It was one of many new tablets at the show, but by far one of the most impressive.
The launch of these new mobile devices comes within weeks of Motorola formally splitting into two separately traded companies.
The New York Stock Exchange now houses both Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc (MMI) and Motorola Solutions Inc (MSI). If I was to put my money behind one it would be the new mobile enterprise that is developing its own computing ecosystem.
The Atrix was not the only converged computing device at CES, however, although it was certainly the most impressive that I saw.
Chinese manufacturer Lenovo showed of its LePad device that can be transformed into a laptop using a system the company calls the 'U1 Hybrid'. The LePad will go on sale in China soon and derivatives will hit international markets before the end of the year.
LePad runs Android when in tablet form and Windows 7 when it is docked in the U1. Windows and Android share common storage so files are accessible across both operating systems.
Honourable mention must also be given to Taiwanese manufacturer Asus that practically invented the now thriving netbook market with its Eee PC and is now targeting the tablet space with its Eee tablet range including one with a slide-out keyboard that offers a neat middle-ground between netbooks and tablets.
Android tablets were the most common devices at CES this year and consumers now have hundreds of options to choose from when considering a tablet computer.
Google also helped things along with version 3 of Android, named Honeycomb. The new system has been designed with tablets in mind and a vast majority of the new tablets announced at CES are powered by it.
Of course, one company that wasn't at CES is Apple. Steve Jobs and co shun the event and rather make announcements at their own occasions.
Announcements from Apple are expected in the next couple of weeks and it'll be interesting to see what Apple has to say about the new wave of tablets that have followed its iPad into the market.