Move over, Nokia: Dell has Windows 8 tablet plans, too


Computer maker Dell raised eyebrows this weekend when the company’s chief commercial officer Steve Felice claimed in an interview with Reuters that the Dell sees plenty of space to compete with Apple in the tablet market. Rather than trying to come up with a so-called “iPad killer” that will knock Apple’s now-iconic device out of popular consciousness, Dell sees its success in a strategy based on Windows 8 tablets.

“We have a roadmap for tablets that we haven’t announced yet. You’ll see some announcements… for the back half of the year,” Felice told Reuters “We don’t think that this market is closed off in any way.”

Dell has infamously failed to get a toe-hold in smartphones or tablets with its Android-based Venue, Aero and Streak devices. What does Dell think would be any different about Windows 8 — and why?

Where we’ve been

In the mid-2000s, Dell was the world’s largest computer maker, first beating out Compaq and then a combined Compaq and HP for the top slot. Much of that success was based on a direct-to-consumer sales approach: Instead of going into a computer store and buying a stock configuration, Dell advertised and sold systems directly, taking out the middleman. Customers could place orders with Dell — complete with custom configurations — and Dell would ship the PC to their door. The formula was a success, businesses and bulk purchasers began to see the appeal of cheap commodity PCs. Founder Michael Dell became one of the youngest heads of a Fortune 500 company in the history of American business. Dell’s just-in-time manufacturing strategy revolutionized the PC business.

axim_x50However, the formula faltered. One reason Dell was able to keep its costs down was that it invested very little in research and development compared to other PC makers — that meant that Dell had trouble innovating relative to the rest of the market, and struggled entering new markets in competitive ways. Although Dell saw some success with a display business, folks looking for high-end PCs tended to turn elsewhere, and the company was caught flatfooted by developments like Apple’s success with the iPod. Dell attempted to diversify its lineup with premium computer offerings — introducing its XPS line and acquiring boutique gaming system maker Alienware in 2006 — but its efforts in other consumer products largely fell flat. Anyone remember the DJ Ditty? The Axim PDA? How about Dell’s HDTVs — did you know Dell is still in the HDTV business?

Dell also undercut its business with a financial scandal that saw the company restating years of earnings, and had Michael Dell and other executives agree to personal sanctions and a $100 million settlement with the SEC. The company also alienated its core customers through outsourcing support, often to overseas call centers.

Dell’s new strategy

Since its heyday as a maker of consumer PCs, Dell has been reinventing itself as a technology company: Not one that caters to consumers and individual customers so much as one focused on corporate IT, government, and enterprise. That basically means Dell sees its primary competitors to be firms like Oracle, SAP, and (above all) Hewlett-Packard, rather than the likes of Acer, Lenovo, or Apple.

Dell’s first big move was acquiring Perot Systems for $3.6 billion — this the same tech services company founded by former Reform party presidential candidate Ross Perot. Dell supplemented that move with acquisitions like Compellent, SaaS integrator Doomi, cloud and backup firm AppSure, and (just this month) network security firm SonicWall. Dell also lost a high-profile bidding war for cloud storage operator 3Par — and lost it to arch-rival HP.

Dell’s enterprise chief recently declared the company is no longer about “shiny boxes,” but about providing end-to-end IT solutions for large, enterprise clients. To be sure, Dell will happily accept an order for a PC or a shiny new ultrabook, but the company believes its future lies somewhere besides consumers’ checkbooks.

Dell’s tablet strategy

Dell’s hints about its tablet strategy reflect this new-found enterprise positioning: The company doesn’t seem to be thinking it can create the fabled “iPad killer,” but that it can deliver vertically-integrated products that will appeal to enterprise, corporate, and government customers. And Dell’s big bet there will be Windows 8, rather than Android.

Despite the myriad of corporate employees (and even executives) who are bringing iPads and other iOS devices into enterprises whether IT groups like it or not, Dell feels there is a a market for non-iOS devices that integrate directly with corporate security systems and device management, with full interoperability with corporate systems like Microsoft Exchange, Sharepoint, Office 365, VPNs, and cloud-based storage solutions.

Early reviews of the Metro interface Microsoft is building into Windows 8 and Windows on ARM (WOA) have been strong. Although many have jarred by the transition between Windows’ traditional desktop and Metro, Windows 8 tablets will be an Metro-only affair, and presumably benefit from a more unified ecosystem centered around a tablet form factor and touch capabilities. “We’re very encouraged by the touch capability we are seeing in the beta versions of Windows 8,” Felice told Reuters.


Dell has not announced any specific tablet products, or whether it intends to develop tablet devices based on ARM processors (which would be Metro-only), Intel processors (which could handle Metro as well as a traditional Windows desktop), or both. Industry speculation is that Dell will attempt to run the gamut, offering ARM devices at the low and while pitching Intel-based tablets as high-end products with greater capabilities.

Dude, would you buy a Dell?

The problem with Dell’s tablet strategy is that the company has yet to demonstrate that it can compete in the mobile technology space — whether for consumers or enterprise.

To be sure, Dell has tried. Dell’s entries in the MP3 player space were poorly received — and were largely rebranded products from Creative. (To be fair, HP failed here too: At one point HP actually sold Apple iPods.) Dell was a player in the PocketPC game with its Axim line of PDAs, based on Windows Mobile. Although some enterprises embraced the platform, Windows Mobile was generally run off the road by RIM’s BlackBerry platform — and Dell’s offering was generally regarded as unremarkable in the space.

As Android matured, Dell tried to get its foot in the door with smartphones…but the company couldn’t persuade U.S. carriers to adopt the devices. So, Dell’s initial Android smartphones (the Mini3) wound up debuting in China and Brazil. Dell eventually brought the Mini3 to the United States as the Aero, and followed up in early 2011 with the Venue — except, again, Dell didn’t get carriers on board. So far, Dell’s principle success in smartphones seems to be in China, where it’s making devices for Baidu’s variant Android OS.

move over nokia dell has windows 8 tablet plans too streak 7

Android tablets? Again, Dell had big plans with its Streak line, Android devices with 5-, 7-, and 10-inch displays. Except the Streak 10 was never launched in the U.S. market (it did launch in China), Dell discontinued the Streak 5 in August 2011, and the company quietly withdrew the Streak 7 in December 2011. That was the last anyone heard of Dell in the tablet market. And anyone who purchased one of those tablet devices probably has a sad story to tell about Android updates.

So the number of successes Dell has had in the mobile market can be counted on the fingers of one foot.

Although Dell hasn’t ruled out making more Android devices, Dell’s renewed tablet strategy seems focused squarely on Windows 8 and the enterprise market. However, it will not be alone in that space: Samsung, Lenovo, and Hewlett-Packard are all working on Windows 8 tablets. Lenovo and HP are very strong players in the enterprise market, and both have outpaced Dell in worldwide computer sales. Industry attention also riveted on Nokia last week as the company indicated it’s working on Windows 8 tablets. Nokia’s entry in the Windows 8 tablet space could be a major development. Thanks to the company’s all-or-nothing bet on the Windows Phone platform, Nokia has privileged status in the Metro world. Nokia doesn’t just bring decades of experience building mobile devices to Windows 8, it can also exert influence on the operating system.

Apples to oranges

Readers will notice there’s one thing that has characterized all of Dell’s computer and mobile offerings to date: The company focuses on providing commodity hardware that runs third-party operating systems, whether that be Windows, Android, or Windows Phone. At best, a Dell device will run that software as well as its competitors. Dell has tried to lather on services and extras to increase the appeal of its devices, but they haven’t fared well. Dell parked its own “Stage” interface on top of both Android and Windows, and even tried to make consumers salivate by offering to pre-load CinemaNow movies on computers. Both crashed and burned.


It’s hard to imagine Dell deviating from its pattern with its forthcoming Windows 8 tablets, or suddenly unveiling an in-house R&D revolution that forges a new product category. Instead, Dell’s value proposition to its customers is that it can offer an end-to-end series of solutions — from tablets to phones (maybe) to PCs to services to infrastructure to highly-reliable hosted services. And if companies buy big, they can get a discount on all those things. Just as with direct-order personal computers, Dell’s strategy is a race to the bottom: cut out the middleman, work with customers directly, lower costs as much as possible, and undercut the competition. In a broad sense, the only thing that’s changed is the Dell is now targeting enterprises, corporations, and large organizations instead of everyday consumers.

Ultimately, that means consumers can expect to see the Dell brand continue to fade into the background. Dell could still be enormously successful as a company, but if everyday consumers decide to embrace Windows 8 tablets, they probably won’t be embracing a Dell.


These cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

Looking for a budget notebook for school, work, or play? The best budget laptops, including our top pick -- the Asus ZenBook UX330UA -- will get the job done without digging too deep into your pockets.

Here are the best laptop deals for November 2018

Whether you've started a new school year, are shopping for a student, or you just need a new computer, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.

These laptop makers produce the most reliable, quality hardware today

If you want to buy your next laptop based around a specific brand, it helps to know which the best brands of laptops are. This list will give you a good grounding in the most reliable, quality laptop manufacturers today.

Is your PC slow? Here's how to restore Windows 10 to factory settings

Computers rarely work as well after they've accumulated files and misconfigured settings. Thankfully, with this guide, you'll be able to restore your PC to its original state by learning how to factory reset Windows.

How to easily record your laptop screen with apps you already have

Learning how to record your computer screen shouldn't be a challenge. Lucky for you, our comprehensive guide lays out how to do so using a host of methods, including both free and premium utilities, in both MacOS and Windows 10.

Want to gift a Steam game so you can play with a friend? Here's how to do it

The holidays may have passed, but it's always a good time to give the gift of gaming (especially when there's a Steam sale)! Here's our quick guide on how to give a Steam game as a gift.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?

Multi-monitor issues? Here's how to resolve them

If you're running into multi-monitor problems, you're not alone. Two screens are very useful, but they can present some difficulties. Here are some common multi-monitor problems and how to fix them.

Capture screenshots with print screen and a few alternative methods

Capturing a screenshot of your desktop is easier than you might think, but it's the kind of thing you'll probably need to know. Here's how to perform the important function in just a few, easy steps.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

The best MacBook deals for November 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…

All the best deals on Surface products for Black Friday

A number of retailers are discounting Surface devices for Black Friday. Be it the Surface Pro 2017, Surface Pro 6, or the Surface Go, here's a look at how (and where) you can save big on Surface this holiday season.
Smart Home

All the best Amazon Black Friday deals for 2018

Amazon may be an online-only retailer, but that doesn’t mean its Black Friday sales are anything to sniff at. In fact, due to its online status, Amazon has huge flexibility with the range of products and deals it can offer. Here's our…