With the recent upgrade of several Motorola Lapdock-compatible phones to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), Webtop users have noticed a radical change. There were some sacrifices — for example, embedded Linux and the desktop version of Firefox were removed — but I think the Webtop 3.0 changes are a step in the right direction, and they promise better productivity for Webtop-enabled phones moving forward.
When I reviewed the Lapdock 100, I was disappointed with the manner in which the Mobile View feature scaled apps to the larger screen on the Lapdock. Part of my review focused on how much better Honeycomb leveraged my ASUS Transformer compared to running the same app on the Lapdock. Webtop could not take advantage of apps with an HD tablet mode.
The truth is that there aren't a lot of Lapdock owners. The majority of these users seem upset by the changes introduced with Webtop 3.0. While I understand their frustration, I think that they're not seeing the big picture. Webtop 3.0 represents a significant step forward in Google's strategy for convergence devices.
Honestly, a dual-core Android phone with 1 or 2 GB of working RAM was hard-pressed to deliver satisfying performance while juggling Android and Linux. The Linux desktop existed almost solely to launch a full desktop version of Firefox. If you had several native apps running and opened a few tabs in Firefox, not only did the system come to a stuttering halt, but you soon found yourself beset by low and out-of-memory errors. This made the desktop Firefox browser limited doing what it should have done best — browsing desktop versions of web pages like Google+, Facebook, and other web apps while performing actions that were missing or limited in native apps or browsers.
The Mobile View also didn't live up to expectations. It merely gave you a blown-up window that represented your normal native app experience. All that extra screen went to waste displaying boxy, jagged smartphone apps that were scaled to the larger screen. Instead of the best of both worlds, you got the worst.
I typically only used my Lapdock to browse social network sites when I was in remote areas with limited network access, because it was easier than pulling out my tablet and setting up the mobile hotspot on my Droid 4. So, as luck would have it, I didn't dock the Droid 4 to the Lapdock until a few days after the ICS upgrade.
Initially, I just didn't get it. There were only five icons along the bottom: Phone, Text Messaging, Calendar, Email, and Browser. The bottom taskbar had a familiar back-arrow, home, and task-switcher button, with notifications on the right. The app dock at the bottom was gone, along with Firefox, and the Mobile View window was missing. I didn't realize that I was looking at the display of my phone, not scaled up, but resized to the Lapdock display.
Customizations to your phone's desktop are not reflected when the phone goes into Webtop 3.0 mode. You can set up an entirely different set of apps, folders, and widgets to display in Webtop mode. Actually, you have to.
The first time you boot into Webtop after updating, your Webtop desktop is a clean slate. In the upper right-hand corner is the familiar app-tray icon, which you click to access your apps and widgets, and you can start customizing your Webtop desktop the same way you would your Android phone. You can drag your favorite apps to any of the five desktop screens, organize them into folders, place and customize widgets, and make your Lapdock a netbook presentation of your smartphone.
Native productivity apps that support HD will now run in tablet mode. This includes Documents to Go and Office Suite Pro. These limited Office alternatives when used on smartphones become powerful productivity tools on Webtop. The native email app and browser, as well as Chrome, also have enhanced HD features.
TechRepublic's Jason Hiner predicted that Webtop 2.0 could be a secret weapon for Google, and it could pose a major enterprise challenge to Apple and Microsoft. There's no doubt that running a thin client in Android HD mode on a Lapdock is a killer corporate app.
But Webdock 3.0 opens the doors to far more than that. Along with Motorola's standardized HDMI/Micro USB configuration, Google can now create a standard for having your Android phone interface with multiple different docking devices — laptops, tablets, monitor/keyboard/mouse, even in-car entertainment units — all while resizing your native apps logically for different displays and functions. I've said that the standardized docking solutions for Apple devices give iOS an aftermarket accessory advantage that keeps users locked in. Android needs the same, and Webdock is a step toward creating that reality.
Have you experienced Webdock 3.0? Share your thoughts about Webtop in the discussion thread below.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.