5 Reasons the $499 Atrix Laptop Dock Is a Tough Sell

One of the most talked about devices at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, the Motorola (s mmi) Atrix 4G, now has official pricing. The dual-core, 4.3-inch Android smartphone will cost AT&T  customers $199 with a two-year contract when it arrives on or before March 6. But the phone is only part of the story: more innovative is the Motorola Laptop Dock, which is powered by the Atrix 4G. Less innovative is the $499 standalone price tag for the Dock, although AT&T (s t) will bundle both the phone and dock for the same $499, provided you add the $20 mobile hotspot service to your monthly plan.

Before I cover the issues here, let me recap what the dock is. Essentially, it’s a laptop-like shell that uses the Atrix handset for its processing power. You plug the phone into the back of the dock and see a basic Linux computing interface on the 11.6-inch display of the dock. The appeal is that you have a larger screen and keyboard, plus all phone data is usable on the dock; there’s no syncing involved. The dock also has an internal battery, which can charge the Atrix handset.

There are a number of challenges that face this accessory at nearly $500, but here are my main concerns that will keep this otherwise fresh, new mobile solution away from many consumers.

  • It’s a single-purpose accessory. The Laptop Dock can only be used with one phone on one carrier: the Atrix 4G, which is an exclusive device to AT&T’s (s t) network for now. That means customers are shelling out up to $500 for an accessory that’s useless if they decide to later change carriers or phones. A far better situation would be if Motorola announced a number of Atrix phones that can work with the docking accessory. That could happen in the future, but until it does, this is a $500 one-trick pony.
  • It’s a dumb terminal with no broadband connection. You can’t use the dock without the phone because the phone provides the processing power and the wireless connection needed to be useful. Without the phone, the dock is a paperweight.
  • It doesn’t reduce the number of devices you’ll carry. For $500, I’d want to see some sort of convergence benefit, meaning that instead of carrying three devices — a phone, a tablet, and a laptop, for example — you could carry two. But even if customers buy the Laptop Dock in lieu of a laptop, they’re still carrying the same number of devices. And this device is limited when compared to a full computer.
  • Computers are cheaper. At this price, the Laptop Dock is competing against netbooks, and even some notebooks, which today can run all day on a single charge yet still weigh only three pounds. That’s a tough sell and while there are benefits to having the dock, will consumers value them enough to justify the price difference?
  • It costs more than the phone. While this is obvious, it’s going to play a big role in terms of consumer mindset. Keeping smartphones at or under the magical $199 price point is helping to attract many feature phone upgrade candidates. Part of how that’s done is through carrier subsidies on the hardware to keep the up-front pricing at that number. When consumers see a $499 price tag on the dock when the phone is $199, there’s an expectation of far more value in the dock. Yet, as mentioned above, it’s a very limited accessory with a web browser and a few applications.

Make no mistake; I still believe Motorola’s Laptop Dock was one of the most innovative and forward-thinking devices I saw at the CES last month. There’s no question the company is pushing the envelope in terms of mobile computing. The theory is sound, but the execution isn’t where it needs to be for mainstream consumers to even test such a theory yet.

I suspect most customers who do purchase the Laptop Dock will take advantage of the $499 bundle, which includes both the Atrix handset and the dock accessory. That makes it a little easier of a pill to swallow, but is that enough? I’m curious to hear if the dock is worth the $300 price tag in that situation for you.

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