The most innovative mobile device I saw at this year’s CES was Motorola’s Atrix smartphone, which employs a unique docking system that allows the phone to power a laptop, desktop or set top box. The Atrix, which is a game-changer but by no means the last word in this space, at least sets the stage for true device convergence, allowing users to seamlessly flip between screens without missing a step.
Still, I’m not as moved as I probably should be, and I’ll tell you why: too many cords. Maybe I’m biased because I cover the wireless industry, but after watching a number of different Atrix demos at the show and online, I’m disappointed in Motorola’s execution. The cords protruding from the back of the dock, and the dock itself, just look antiquated in a world where we can already wirelessly stream content from a smartphone to TV. After studying the Atrix, I was ultimately led to one question: How would Apple solve this problem? Answer: without wires or dock.
While Apple may eventually find its Achilles in its resistance to openness, for now it’s still leveraging a closed system that manages to continuously put out products with vision that are masterfully executed. Motorola expressed a unique vision with the Atrix, but my guess is that it’s a short-sighted one and will ultimately be trumped by however it is Apple decides to bring all of its iOS and OS X devices together.
From the iPhone to the shuffle, Apple is all about reducing every device to its lowest common denominator, eliminating lines (including cords), until they have a minimalist prototype with even less clutter than Steve Jobs’ first apartment. My guess is that when Apple imagines seamless integration of its devices, the company sees a world where one will sit down at a MacBook, place their iPhone next to it, and the two devices will immediately begin talking to one another in very much the way the Atrix works through Motorola’s proprietary laptop.
One might point out that Apple’s long lag on wireless syncing of iTunes is proof that the company doesn’t have a plan for such a solution, but I beg to differ. I was talking to an iPhone developer not too long ago, and he told me that he respects Apple’s get-it-right approach. Sure, he said, it may take them a little longer, but when they do come out with something, they’ve done it right and with ample forethought. I’m guessing Apple has been thinking about the seamless linking of their devices for years, but hasn’t quite tweaked it to perfection yet.
To be sure, Apple has been pushing towards a faster, more connected mobile ecosystem for awhile now. Its new data storage facility in North Carolina is nearing completion (Apple in the cloud). The purchase of Lala will come to fruition soon enough. The iOS AirPlay app is already streaming content through the AppleTV device. The new MacBook Air, which runs on Flash memory and features split-second startup times, is about as close to a mobile device as you can get. How long will it be before Apple simply makes iOS a more robust platform and does away with OS X altogether?
My idea that Apple will accomplish convergence of all its devices without wires is entirely based on extrapolation from what it has done so far, and I just don’t see that many cords in Apple’s future. The thing that Apple has in its favor is exactly the thing I mentioned which may someday emerge as its Achilles: a closed system. With complete control over a portfolio of products, from platform and chips to assembly, I can’t believe that Apple has forgotten to build communication between products into its road map.
And who knows, maybe it won’t be Apple that figures out a simpler solution. Maybe it will be HTC or even Google itself. It just seems like a there are so many different flavors of wireless technology out there that when paired with the cloud, devices will be able to communicate sans cord and docks. Heck, in a lot of cases, they’re already doing it.
Motorola is due major kudos for its work on the Atrix, cords or no cords. It looks like a great device that will please a lot of customers. Revolutionary? Perhaps for the time being. Sure, you can call me an Apple fanboy, but there is no denying the cries from the hilltops when Verizon Wireless announced it was getting the iPhone. Nor was there any doubt about who had the most to gain from the move, when AT&T and Verizon’s stocks dipped and Apple’s shot up nearly 6 percent. Apple is a company that has revolutionized the wireless industry (i.e. iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) more than once. Is it so preposterous to imagine it will do it again?