Will Droid Bionic users pay for Lapdock? Analysts skeptical

Enlarged display and keyboard are designed to expand smartphone usability -- for $300

An unusual Lapdock accessory for the Motorola Droid Bionic smartphone, which Verizon Wireless started selling on Thursday, can be had for $300.

While some consider the accessory revolutionary, it's unclear how a smartphone-Lapdock combination will resonate with customers, especially business users.

Motorola Bionic smartphone
The Motorola Bionic smartphone with Lapdock.

The Lapdock extends the capabilities of the Droid Bionic's powerful dual-core processor by adding an 11.6-in. display and large keyboard, providing users with the ability to edit documents and email, browse the Web and view videos.

The Lapdock requires Motorola's Webtop software, first announced in January. A Lapdock and the Webtop software are also available for the Motorola Atrix 4G smartphone sold by AT&T. Other docks and the Webtop software are available for use with the Motorola Photon 4G device sold by Sprint.

An AT&T spokesman wouldn't comment on the success of the Atrix's Lapdock, though he noted, "Our customers are pleased with the Atrix."

A Motorola Mobility spokeswoman wouldn't disclose Atrix Lapdock sales figures, but added, "We have seen that many consumers appreciate the portability and convenience of the built-in keyboard and larger screen that the Lapdock provides when it comes to sending email, browsing the Web and multi-tasking with their phone."

The Motorola Mobility spokeswoman said that the Droid Bionic targets both consumer and business users.

The device's security policies and productivity features make it business-ready, she noted. The Droid Bionic includes device and SD card encryption and Citrix GotoMetting and Citrix Receiver for Android. The GotoMeeting feature could help a remote Bionic user quickly find a bigger display to view presentations on the Lapdock, the spokeswoman added.

Many home users are likely to opt for the HD Station dock to share photos and videos, Motorola said. The HD Station is smaller than the Lapdock and has no keyboard or display. Verizon has priced the HD Station at $100.

Docking devices like the Lapdock are bound to proliferate, the Motorola spokeswoman said. "You can expect to see Motorola continue to build out a comprehensive product portfolio with a wide range of accessories that meeting varying consumer needs."

Analysts said Motorola should be commended for making smartphones more useful, though two noted that it remains unclear how well the Lapdock concept will catch on considering the price tag.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, called the Webtop and Lapdock "cool" features for switching over to a full browser when the smartphone is docked, but he questioned whether users will be willing to pay the added expense.

"Lapdock represents a pretty significant price uplift, which I believe few consumers can stomach," Gold said. "Some business people might buy it, but you can get a pretty decent laptop for $600 and a consumer-grade laptop for $300. Why would you buy a dock for the same price?"

Ramon Llamas, an IDC analyst, also said he likes the Lapdock concept, but added that "it hasn't caught on yet. Chances are [smartphone customers] already have a laptop or a PC. Why get a Lapdock?"

Still, Llamas said the Lapdock will make it easier to get work done when away from your desk. "Will [some] people pay $300 for it? Yup. All of them? I doubt it."

As with other technology, customers are willing to try out innovations but only when the price is right.

Verizon is offering, for a limited time, a $100 rebate to Bionic buyers who also purchase a Lapdock and a data plan that is $50 a month or higher.

The idea of docking a smartphone with another device isn't entirely new, and could be part of a growing trend.

AT&T said on Thursday that it will offer the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play 4G with a Multimedia Dock DK300 and MC100 music cable for $49.99 (and a two-year aggreement) starting Sept. 18. The Play 4G runs Android 2.3.3, has a 4-in. screen and a 1 GHz processor.

While Motorola has taken pains to show the Bionic can be business-ready, the Play is clearly focused on gamers. The Play is a PlayStation-certified gaming device that has dedicated gaming controls built into the phone through its slide-out controller.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon