The tech-consuming public has never shown much interest in using smartphones to power their laptops, but that's not stopping Acer.
The company is showing off a prototype laptop shell, called Acer Extend, that's powered entirely by a connected smartphone. According to Engadget, the laptop contains hardly any internal components except for a 6000 mAh battery. All the processing power and Android software comes from Acer's Liquid E2 smartphone, which connects to the dock via an MHL cable.
The concept is reminiscent of Motorola's Webtop from 2011. Early versions of Motorola's laptop dock included a cradle for the phone, though Motorola later introduced a version with a cable connection. Motorola's docks didn't just run Android apps; they could also launch the desktop version of Mozilla's Firefox browser.
As exciting as the concept seemed, it wasn't a big hit with consumers. The first edition was more expensive than many laptops. Also—even after prices came down—the performance wasn't up to par with dedicated PCs, and the software was too limited. Motorola abandoned the idea in 2012.
History of similar products
Other companies have tried at similar convergence, with mixed results. Asus' Padfone has never been officially available in the United States. While Asus claims the product has sold well elsewhere, the latest version does not offer a laptop dock. More recently, Ubuntu tried to offer modular computing with the Ubuntu Edge, but the project fell far short of its crowdfunding goals.
While it sounds alluring to have one device plus peripherals for all your computing needs, it's not really necessary. Cloud-storage services like Dropbox allow you to easily reach your files across multiple devices, and if you want to handle text messages from computer, you can use services likeMightyText or Motorola Connect. Samsung even allows users of its Ativ PCs to access apps and data from Galaxy phones through a USB connection.
Meanwhile, the limitations on storage and processing power in a smartphone make the laptop experience less than ideal. The fact that your phone must be connected to the laptop presents a challenge for working and talking on the phone at the same time. And in Acer's case, Android just isn't very capable as a laptop operating system.
Perhaps some version of smartphone-laptop convergence will make sense in the future, with the right software and significant advances in hardware. But from the looks of Acer's prototype, it's more of the same failed concept we've seen several times already. Although a representative told Engadget that Extend could launch early next year, this idea is better off staying in the lab.
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