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Motorola Atrix is Probably the Future of Computing

January 8, 2011

I’m currently carrying two smartphones and a laptop on my person, with a netbook and desktop at home, plus a TiVo and a game console. In five years, a single device like the Motorola Atrix could replace all of them.

The Atrix is an Android 2.2 (Froyo) phone with a dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage (with a storage slot for up to 32GB more). The specs aren’t THAT different from my netbook.

So why do I need my netbook? Well, it has a bigger display and a keyboard, along with USB ports.

The premise and the promise of the Atrix is that we don’t need so many CPUs in our lives. We use different size monitors and different PC form factors for different tasks, but what if we had a single device that could just plug into those monitors and form factors? That’s what the Atrix does.

Carry it around as a smartphone. When you need a laptop, plug it into a super thin and light dock that looks like a laptop: It’s got a display and a keyboard, but no guts…just a battery to charge the phone when it’s docked. The smartphone UI morphs into a more traditional interface when the phone is docked.

Want a bigger display? Plug it into the regular dock, which has HDMI-out and 3 USB ports (below photo).

As mobile processors get more capable of fulfilling our computing needs (and, if they follow Moore’s Law, this will happen faster than we expect), the notion that smartphones could serve as our primary computers becomes not just a possibility but a safe bet. All we need are KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) docks to plug our phones into at work, at home, and wherever else we sit and get our stuff done.

PC World points out another exciting feature about the Atrix: It includes Citrix Receiver for virtualized access to a (more powerful) Windows 7 PC. Meaning the Atrix can serve as the user-facing computer, while all the necessary processing horsepower lives in a real computer somewhere else, and your large files can either live on the virtualized desktop or in the cloud. 

This virtualization is amazing in it’s own right, but I see it as a stopgap solution until mobile processors go superpowered. For instance, right now, the Atrix is powerful enough to run the stripped-down Quick Office productivity suite (or Angry Birds); if you want to run Microsoft Office 2010, or Adobe Creative Suite, or Civilization V with the Atrix, you can do so by accessing your virtualized desktop.

That gap will close someday, though, and you’ll be able to run the real stuff right on your phone, at which point the virtual desktop becomes unnecessary.

Best thing about the Atrix: It ain’t far off. Coming to AT&T in Q1 of 2011, so we’re talking weeks or months. I just got a new smartphone from JWT…someday soon, that might be all I need.

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