We’re all back at home this morning and I’ve been mulling over best of show all weekend. While we could take our love of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis to its obvious conclusion, considering that the candies eventually and inevitably turn into a sloppy mess when you hold them in your hand too long, we decided against it. Instead, we’ve chosen the unique and decidedly game-changing Motorola Atrix.
First, let me state that it was slim pickings out there. The show was, at best, a placeholder. Many of the major company events were actual snores (if you watched our live stream, you’d have seen that LG whipped out a fridge and washer combo and talked about Six Sigma for a bit, always a crowd-pleaser) and the only exciting event was the Motorola launch of the Xoom Honeycomb tablet and an odd phone that shouldn’t have captured our imaginations but definitely did: the Atrix.
The Atrix is a dual-core Android phone with a twist. The phone itself is fairly unremarkable but when paired with a keyboard and HDTV or the Atrix “laptop dock” the device becomes a netbook. The phone becomes the processor and everything is driven from the Atrix’s on-board storage. Although you’re not going to be running “real” applications, the built-in Webtop interface allows access to most mobile apps and, barring that, you can always run Android apps on a larger screen, adding offline and online productivity. Add in some Citrix support and you’ve got a winner.
Why did this win? Well, it was innovative and it was obvious. Many have tried and failed to do the same thing including Palm and a company called Redfly. However, no one has succeeded. What Motorola did is offer two separate potential paths for accessing your phone in a larger format – either via HDMI or via a separate piece of hardware. This means you don’t actually have to invest in a special peripheral if you don’t want to and, once you realize you love the Atrix’s feature set, you can upgrade to the laptop dock. You don’t have to use the Atrix’s most important feature, which is what makes it especially compelling.
We could have named any of the “me-too” tablets at CES but even Motorola’s own Xoom isn’t “real” yet because Honeycomb isn’t available and the rest of the devices seemed rushed at best. I suspect MWC and CTIA will bring us more compelling devices. As for the “smart” TVs if you’ve followed the market at all you’ll agree that sticking a web interface into a TV is a horrible idea. If there’s one thing TV manufacturers aren’t good at it’s offering updates for their devices. A TV is a monolithic device and updates aren’t a good idea when you’re talking about a consumer base that ranges from my Grandma to Bill Gates. The less you offer in a TV the better and to stick company-branded whozits, widgets, and whatzits on the screen is the last thing you want. A side-loading set-top box for those who need one (see Google TV)? Excellent. A built-in web interface? Absolutely not – at least not yet.
So that leaves us with the Atrix. I suspect what Motorola is really doing here is offering a new method for phone expansion akin the the all-but-dead Modu. However, what they’ve really done is breathed life into the same-old-same-old tired cavalcade of devices that tired manufactures rolled out at CES. For that, at least, we thank them.