Smartphones are incredible machines. Broken down, they are essentially all of the technology of your home computer (plus a decent camera and touchscreen), crammed into a pocket-sized device. And while that's great from a portability standpoint, not everything is better in smaller form.
Smartphones are great for handling various lightweight tasks while on the go. I can send out loads of quick emails with little to no hassle from my phone. And I can edit documents, upload files and even write my articles from my phone, if need be. Despite the raw power and their near limitless capabilities, though, smartphones are still secondary devices due to the limitations of the display size. Many of us still rely on laptops or desktop computers to take care of more resource-intensive work and tasks with a lot of text entry. And some prefer the balance of a larger display and portability of tablets.
But when you start adding separate devices to the bill, you also have to consider just how you will connect additional devices to the Internet and how to effectively transfer data, files and other information between the various devices. If you need data on your laptop from virtually anywhere, at any given time (read: not just when there's an open Wi-Fi network around), you can purchase a hotspot and pay for service each month or you can pay for the hotspot feature on your smartphone. And, considering most data plans come with relatively low caps, transferring your files between devices through anything but a data cable can chew through your data allotment rather quickly.
You could also, of course, use an unofficial hotspot or tethering application. There are workarounds for everything and most certainly ways to make working from multiple devices possible while on the go -- I do it every day. But there are certainly more efficient ways to get things done.
Motorola, for instance, introduced the Lapdock (or laptop dock) with the Atrix 4G. (They have since launched several Lapdocks for use with various Motorola phones.) When a Motorola phone is docked in one of the Lapdocks, the Webtop application is launched. Using the data connection, file system and applications from your smartphone, your phone will be turned your smartphone into a work horse. You can work from a much more efficient and work-friendly form factor; you get a desktop interface and the full Mozilla Firefox browser, all powered by your smartphone.
(It is worth noting that Webtop 3.0 Beta was discovered within a leaked version of Android 4.0 for the DROID RAZR and is no longer a desktop operating system anymore. When the RAZR is docked, it launches a tablet interface instead. There is no Mozilla Firefox to be found. Webtop 3.0 is a step in the wrong direction.)
And back in February, Canonical, creators of one of the most popular Linux distros known as Ubuntu, showed us their own adaptation of how smartphones could be integrated with different types of devices and peripherals (monitors, external keyboards, etc.) to create a very adaptable and frictionless experience between computers and smartphones: Ubuntu for Android. Essentially, a phone running the software simultaneously runs Ubuntu and Android, and the two operating systems share the same Linux kernel and file system. When you plug a device running Ubuntu for Android into an external monitor and connect a keyboard and mouse, a full-fledged version of Ubuntu launches and is completely functional, all from the power of your pocket-sized handset. Your contacts, text messages, data connection, Android applications and all of your files can be accessed and utilized from the Ubuntu desktop.
The question is: why are more manufacturers and Google not doing more with this? It's a great way to supercharge the smartphone experience and utilize a smartphone to its fullest potential. And buying a smartphone with a webtop terminal can be much cheaper than buying a smartphone and a tablet or laptop without sacrificing much functionality, if any.
Maybe it's just the nerd factor that intrigues me so much, but I would love nothing more than to use my phone to power a laptop-like device, to be able to surf the Web from a laptop-like machine without having to pay for tethering, to work from my phone (albeit via proxy through webtop). I want my phone to be the brain of my laptop. It's entirely possible and the software is already there. What are we waiting for?
For what it's worth, it was rumored that a webtop feature would be implemented in the Jelly Bean update later this year. And now that Google's acquisition of Motorola has completed, the possibility of that seems much greater. But the question of how, when or if hardware manufacturers would even support it remains.
What say you, folks? Do you care for webtops? Would you like to see Google support Ubuntu for Android officially? Or your favorite hardware manufacturer? Would you like to use your smartphone to power all of your machines?