Meet Google's secret weapon for fighting Apple and Microsoft | Mobile - CNET News (click for full article) Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha pulled off one of the most difficult things to do in the technology industry: He surprised people at a press conference. When Jha took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show 2011 and revealed the Motorola Atrix smartphone and the "Lapdock" that made it act like a laptop computer, it sent reporters scrambling. They expected the unveiling of the Motorola Xoom, the highly anticipated and already-leaked first official Android tablet to take on the Apple iPad. But, it was the Atrix and the Lapdock that stole the show. Was this a hybrid smartphone/PC, the veritable missing link of computing? If so, how did it work? The key was Motorola's homegrown software called "Webtop" that made the Atrix act like a computer once it was docked. When Webtop launched with the Atrix two months later, the obvious question was how Motorola beat platform giants Microsoft and Apple to the converged smartphone-PC device? The answer is complicated but fascinating, and on the eve of Motorola Mobility's merger with Google, it leaves the combined companies in an enviable position. The success of Android has established Google as a key player in mobile computing devices, and once consumers and business users start looking to consolidate their many devices, Webtop could make Google the company that's best positioned to make that consolidation possible. CNET and its sister site TechRepublic interviewed current and former Motorola and Google employees as well as industry experts to explain how Webtop emerged from a brainstorming session to become, potentially, a major weapon in the fight for dominance in the next generation of computing platforms. What emerged from our reporting is a clear picture of a technology that disappointed initially but may be about to spring into the mainstream. The idea of using a phone as a fully functional computer has been around for more than a decade, of course. In the late 1990s, former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates often said a phone would eventually replace the big PC towers. More recently, Apple CEO Steve Jobs declared the arrival of the "Post-PC" era in 2010, as the iPad's surprising popularity began to erode overall PC sales. Still, neither Microsoft nor Apple have made the leap to using their smartphones as PC replacements. That gives Motorola/Google a lot of running room as it waits for final regulatory approval from China. The Secret Weapon Webtop started in mid-2009 with a handful of engineers in Motorola's Sunnyvale, Calif., lab thinking about how they could get past the frustration of the mobile Web browsing experience. "There are Web sites that simply don't work without a mouse," said Seang Chau, Motorola's chief software engineer. He and his engineers wanted to make that exasperating mobile experience a thing of the past. "It was just a few folks getting together and saying, 'What can we do?'" Once they settled on a rough concept of a dockable phone with a desktop environment and a full Web browser embedded inside, Chau's team quickly "hacked something together." Great idea. But the fate of the project hung on whether Chau could sell it to their CEO, Jha. First, Chau sent Jha video clips that showed the user experience for Webtop on very early prototypes. Then he explained in phone conversations that Webtop was meant to give a docked smartphone the "full Firefox browser including download and upload support, full Adobe Flash for desktop, and multi-window multitasking," said Chau. "At a high level, the key positioning was maximizing the user experience of your cell phone with a keyboard, mouse, and large screen." Finally, Chau met with Jha and presented him with working prototypes. He showed how right-click, copy-and-paste, the scroll wheel, and window resizing all worked in Webtop just like they did on a PC. Jha connected with the concept. "The moment he saw those demos, he wanted to go for it," Chau said. Webtop would later be tied to the Atrix smartphone since the two products arrived in the market at the same time. But at that point, "We were working on Webtop before an Atrix ever existed," Chau said.