Browser optimize

Webtop 3.0 opens more doors for Google

Donovan Colbert takes a look at some of the changes with Webtop 3.0. Find out why he thinks Webtop 3.0 will open more doors for Google in the enterprise.

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.

About

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 profession...

9 comments
BenMitchell
BenMitchell

Webtop 3.0 is the natural progression of this technology and I can't believe that Google/Motorola would abandon it. Instead I expect to see a new "Google Chrome" desktop version to replace webtop on future devices once Google and Moto figure out how to pull that off. It will be some highly modified version of the host phones OS, like ICS is for Webtop 3.0 - but with additional features not found in the phone's version of the OS.

kpdriscoll
kpdriscoll

I really thought they had the right product and the 3.0 version's tablet-like interface updates were great. So WHY would Google be so stupid to put the kibosh on it??!! VERY disappointing after such progress.

sgamao
sgamao

understand if it's an updating solutions or one leading to the end. I'd love to might use the webtop for my galaxy nexus.

MichelliL
MichelliL

I'm not sure if you saw the news last week, but Webtop has been killed off by Google. At Papagoogle's decree, Motorola has ended support of Webtop as well as Lapdocks. Verizon is in the process of selling off their remaining stock of Lapdocks for just $50. I'm very disheartened by this, and while this news isn't "official" it has been reported enough, and the new Razr M (which is really a Razr Maxx with no edges) has no HDMI out port at all. I haven't checked to see if it has Webtop installed, but I'd guess that it isn't. Now the key question is whether Google will take the tech that Motorola designed and graft it into the core Android OS, which is what I would love to see happen. I'd also like it to run through just USB, hopefully even interfacing with a PC for a phone-as-a-window-on-your-PC experience. Will it happen? Who knows.

dcolbert
dcolbert

A lot of forum posters on Android sites are complaining that they can't find any Webdock 3.0 documentation online. The first image above, if you click on it, you'll see that under "Welcome to Webtop version 3.0" it says, >>Learn More. This is a hypertext link. Click that on your Webdock device and it will take you to the online Motorola documentation for Webdock 3.0. I have a modded and end-of-life/support Atrix Lapdock. It doesn't have dedicated hardware keys and the touch-pad does not support multi-touch gestures. Because of that, there are some functions that I can't perform because my Lapdock and my Droid 4 weren't actually designed to work together. An external USB mouse fixes those problems right up for the most part - but be aware, if you've got a modded Atrix lapdock, you're going to run into some incompatibility issues. With the prices of the Lapdock 100 and 500 coming down through closeout sites, I'd recommend against saving the $30 or so that you'll save buying and modding an Atrix Lapdock, at this point.

dcolbert
dcolbert

The whole Google Chrome focus is on Google's initiative to drive cloud based technology and adoption. I've wrote about this several times and there are a few problems with this approach. The biggest of which is that it *isn't* ready yet. Ubiquitous, affordable mobile cloud connectivity just isn't a reality and off-line solutions suck. Because of that, people still want *native application solutions*. They want their apps and data local, not on a cloud that is only reachable in limited circumstances or through significant expense (especially considering Wireless Telco caps and overage charges). Google wants us to store everything on the cloud and access it constantly - the Telcos want us to minimize our use of their network for data as much as possible. As consumers stuck in the middle, the whole "Chrome Cloud based solutions" approach is going to continue to meet huge resistance unless Google can figure out how to give everyone very inexpensive cellular data. Google already has their hands full with a ticked-off Apple... they don't need the Wireless telco industry gunning for them also. But Google's road-map has to destroy Verizon, Sprint and AT&T's business model to be successful. Not to mention I am still unconvinced that any kind of cloud-based, browser-delivered app can ever effectively rival the features and performance that a *native* app can deliver. Logistically the extra abstraction layer of having a browser between your physical hardware and the app you are running and the data you accessing, along with a wan connection, is always going to cause a performance hit. Cloud proponents argue that at some point it becomes so insignificant it is a moot point. I wonder about that. By the time that remote wireless technology is offering 10GbE, wired technology will be offering 100GbE... It seems similar to the challenge of SSD storage versus optical storage. You get to 1TB SSD drives, magnetic platters will (probably) be offering 100TB for less money. In a nut-shell, until all of those challenges can be addressed, Google's cloud-based initiative pushes are going to simply result in frustrated consumers and a continued perspective that Apple delivers "better" products, platforms and experience. So my point is, I hope Google doesn't make some ill advised attempt to force more cloud and cloud-app adoption in some design to migrate the rapidly maturing WebTop environment to something more in line with their long term vision of Google Chrome as a mechanism of cloud-based computing adoption. But I wouldn't be surprised if that is *exactly* what they intend to do.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Only a few more people turned up for the Webtop party than have turned up for the ChromeOS party. ;)

dcolbert
dcolbert

But a quick search confirms you're right. There are three possibilities I can see: Google realizes that eventually, toe to toe with Apple, if the patent lawsuits go on, they're liable to lose, or guaranteed to lose. Google is so invested in ChromeOS and ChromeBooks, they simply can't commit themselves to making Android a competitor to not only iOS, but potentially Chrome itself. Google has plans for Webtop and Android. Killing "Webtop" when 3.0 is such a solid product doesn't make sense, unless they plan on making it a standard feature in Android that other manufacturers can easily support. Webtop actually is something that Android is far ahead of iOS on, one place where Android can set the bar for features. It just doesn't make sense to kill it off now. I'm frustrated to hear this news, but I'm going to hold my opinion and hope that Google has some surprises for us that are even better than what we've got right now with Webtop 3.0. (Although I am secretly afraid that Google sees Android Webtop as competition to ChromeOS and is just making a really stupid corporate decision right now).

MichelliL
MichelliL

I think that the reality is that Google feels Webtop is a threat to Chrome OS and has opted to kill it off, rather than cultivate it as a solid and integrated piece of the Android OS. I wouldn't mind seeing them instead use Chrome as a replacement for Webtop, where my phone instead had an option to switch into a full Chrome OS environment (while still allowing me to answer calls and text messages), but unfortunately I don't see Google doing that either. I'm certainly frustrated as well, and was when I first saw the news break last week. As you said, it just doesn't make sense. It's a solid differentiator to iOS, especially if Google has any plans to make a push into the enterprise space.