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Summary:

The Motorola Atrix Laptop Dock was one of the most innovative devices shown off at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show. But with a $499 price tag, there are at least five reasons that this accessory is going to be a hard sell to most mainstream consumers.

atrix-lapdoc

One of the most talked about devices at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, the Motorola Atrix 4G, now has official pricing. The dual-core, 4.3-inch Android smartphone will cost AT&T  customers $199 with a two-year contract when it arrives on or before March 6. But the phone is only part of the story: more innovative is the Motorola Laptop Dock, which is powered by the Atrix 4G. Less innovative is the $499 standalone price tag for the Dock, although AT&T will bundle both the phone and dock for the same $499, provided you add the $20 mobile hotspot service to your monthly plan.

Before I cover the issues here, let me recap what the dock is. Essentially, it’s a laptop-like shell that uses the Atrix handset for its processing power. You plug the phone into the back of the dock and see a basic Linux computing interface on the 11.6-inch display of the dock. The appeal is that you have a larger screen and keyboard, plus all phone data is usable on the dock; there’s no syncing involved. The dock also has an internal battery, which can charge the Atrix handset.

There are a number of challenges that face this accessory at nearly $500, but here are my main concerns that will keep this otherwise fresh, new mobile solution away from many consumers.

  • It’s a single-purpose accessory. The Laptop Dock can only be used with one phone on one carrier: the Atrix 4G, which is an exclusive device to AT&T’s network for now. That means customers are shelling out up to $500 for an accessory that’s useless if they decide to later change carriers or phones. A far better situation would be if Motorola announced a number of Atrix phones that can work with the docking accessory. That could happen in the future, but until it does, this is a $500 one-trick pony.
  • It’s a dumb terminal with no broadband connection. You can’t use the dock without the phone because the phone provides the processing power and the wireless connection needed to be useful. Without the phone, the dock is a paperweight.
  • It doesn’t reduce the number of devices you’ll carry. For $500, I’d want to see some sort of convergence benefit, meaning that instead of carrying three devices — a phone, a tablet, and a laptop, for example — you could carry two. But even if customers buy the Laptop Dock in lieu of a laptop, they’re still carrying the same number of devices. And this device is limited when compared to a full computer.
  • Computers are cheaper. At this price, the Laptop Dock is competing against netbooks, and even some notebooks, which today can run all day on a single charge yet still weigh only three pounds. That’s a tough sell and while there are benefits to having the dock, will consumers value them enough to justify the price difference?
  • It costs more than the phone. While this is obvious, it’s going to play a big role in terms of consumer mindset. Keeping smartphones at or under the magical $199 price point is helping to attract many feature phone upgrade candidates. Part of how that’s done is through carrier subsidies on the hardware to keep the up-front pricing at that number. When consumers see a $499 price tag on the dock when the phone is $199, there’s an expectation of far more value in the dock. Yet, as mentioned above, it’s a very limited accessory with a web browser and a few applications.

Make no mistake; I still believe Motorola’s Laptop Dock was one of the most innovative and forward-thinking devices I saw at the CES last month. There’s no question the company is pushing the envelope in terms of mobile computing. The theory is sound, but the execution isn’t where it needs to be for mainstream consumers to even test such a theory yet.

I suspect most customers who do purchase the Laptop Dock will take advantage of the $499 bundle, which includes both the Atrix handset and the dock accessory. That makes it a little easier of a pill to swallow, but is that enough? I’m curious to hear if the dock is worth the $300 price tag in that situation for you.

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  1. Could not have stated it better, Kevin. Don’t think anything else needs to be added to that!

    The general idea of the Atrix is great but it is neutralized by two issues currently. The price of the peripherals and that they are not universal for all Android phones. They will only become universal when Google builds into Android itself a system that will allow for this general setup to take place, and then maybe we will also see significantly better prices on the peripherals.

    Nonetheless, I do hope this is the future of computing. I would love a 7″ Android tablet that can either be docked to expand it’s capabilities or do similarly via WiFi. In my perfect world it would be a WiFi type of setup that would allow you to set the devices in your home that you want it to power/control, thus leave it wherever and sit down at a keyboard & LCD in the other room and do your thing while some else can use the same power to find something to watch–of course the CPU will need a bit more power ;)

    But I can dream. . .

  2. Not only are you completely on point with each of your points but ATTs announced pricing for data on the Atrix is outrageous. Add the cost of the Atrix package and the cost of the data plan to ATTs demonstrated poor service and this is a non-starter. Too bad because this was the most intriguing tech (to me) coming out of CES.

  3. The laptop dock is just a screen, a keyboard and a battery, right? How much does that cost to make, like $50?

    1. NO, just the screen would probably cost more than $50. The battery ain’t so cheap either. The current price may not justify a purchase, but it doesn’t seem to include an exorbitant margin.

      1. If they made the dock have little to no profit margin, and pushed the sales of the phone, they’d have a hit. Its as if they want their innovation and new market to fail. Until they can get the market involved in this product, they’ll make this great idea into just another failure.

      2. How much, then? You can get a 20-inch monitor for $100 and this screen is about 1/3 the size of that. Batteries for normal laptops are easy to find for $20 on eBay.

      3. I disagree. I bet I could make one for less than $150, and not $500 retail.

        Also, the view isn’t a STANDARD LINUX VIEW. Where’d you pull that from?? Its simply a tablet/netbook customized Android UI, and probably shares some similarity with the Moto Xoom.

        I see nothing here to rekindle memories of Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, or any other Linux I know of…

  4. I certainly hope that Motorola would make many more devices in the future that could make use of the dock. I also hope that they allow third parties to make something comparable. That’s will give them longer-term viability. If they make enough money selling the device they don’t have to also make a lot on the dock.

  5. Wadood Chaudhary Thursday, February 3, 2011

    I think Motorola has killed its own innovation. I belive if AT&T gives the Lapdock say for free, they have a second iPhone. Now what they have at best is another Droid.

    AT&T and Motorola could easily have eaten up the cost of it from a larger and a long term customer base.

    1. Agree. ATT wants the data plan and the fact they require the Data Pro plan w/tethering for the laptop dock, that should cover a lot of the cost. I would think something around $300 would have been better. Are they thinking this is an enterprise tool only (as we know, companies will typically pay more for hardware because they get deals on the plans)?

  6. The pricing is atrocious. Its as if AT&T wants to fail. Whoever comes up with this pricing really needs to be out of a job if it remains the same at the time of launch.

    I totally agree with the point of buying a separate netbook at that cost. Makes this device totally pointless.

  7. While I agree it is interesting. However, basically a monitor/keyboard. I can link my phone to my netbook/laptop and save $500. So they are saying their cpu/etc are free when you buy a $500 laptop AND their monitor/keyboard is $300 to $400 better than either standalone ones (FRY’s has monitor/keyboards for less than $100) and/or a netbook/laptop (again $200 not $500). Nice try, as they say, “one is born every min”

  8. It costs even more out of pocket than $499 when you get it with the phone and data plan bundled. You have to pay $599 and then wait for a $100 rebate to be returned to you. The additional data plan will cost you $480 over the lifespan of the contract. The “advantage” of buying it outright is that you could also use it on prepay or just use wifi when docked and not be forced to pay more money.

  9. what is the point of the mobile hotspot when you can use the phone directly with the keyboard/display on the dock?

    i would think these would not be hotspot customers, so why require it?

    they better not be considering this thing to be tethering and requiring a tethering plan to use it. that would be just plain wrong.

    1. The “low” upfront bundled pricing is meant to induce customers to pay for a tethering plan they don’t need. While AT&T isn’t technically “requiring” the mobile hotspot plan, the prohibitive a la carte price for the laptop dock is pretty much in line with the $480 premium of hotspot provisioning over a 2-year contract.

      And to think that, for a week or two, I actually considered switching carriers for the Atrix. How naive.

  10. It reminds me a bit of the Celio Redfly…

    But seriously, the biggest drawback for me is that the phone is hidden to your view while you’re using the dock, and exposed to everyone else. If I was using this in a coffee shop, I’d be constantly worried that someone would snatch the phone right out of the cradle — or jostle it and dash the phone to the ground.

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