Dell Is Your Unlikely Tablets-Over-PCs Champion

Dell is a brand name intimately welded to laptops and desktops in office cubicles…and now, in a new push, Dell is saying it can sell tablets by the ton to crack Apple’s grip. Squad…Attention! About-turn! Quick march!



Dell’s chief commercial officer Steve Felice thinks that his company can leverage its way into the tablet market because it’s wide open. Speaking to Reuters, Felice said that Dell tablets powered by Windows 8 would arrive later in 2012, and they’d offer something no one else has: Dell’s “coveted brand.”

The optimism didn’t end there. 

Felice said that in enterprise use of the current crop of iPhones and iPads, “There are a lot of concerns about security, interoperability, systems and device management, and I think Dell is in the best position to meet those.” iPads themselves leave room for improvement, and when executives set aside their laptops (presumably bearing the round Dell badge in the center of their lids) for tablets then a “lot of compromises” are being made, thanks to the lack of keyboard and limited processing power.

Later in the year Dell will be fielding Windows 8-sporting tablets, Felice said, and there’s a clear roadmap that they’re not revealing yet–although it’ll be timed for the “back half of the year” and will be a positive thing because Dell is “very encouraged by the touch capability we are seeing in the beta versions of Windows 8.”



Felice’s been speaking to Reuters not because Dell has some great news to share, but because it’s the launch weekend of Apple’s latest iPad, and sales would seem to be impressive. The device has an existing majestic domination of the tablet market, and since technically the new iPad surpasses nearly every peer and Apple’s now selling a reduced-price iPad 2 it seems likely still more iPads will be sold this year than last. And that’s important because in the iPad event itself Tim Cook noted in the last quarter more iPads were sold than PCs by HP, or Dell, or other top-line PC makers.

Felice says iPads have weaknesses, in use and in enterprise. This is in the face of increasing enterprise-awareness from Apple (its recent iOS management tool would seem ideal for solving some of the security and device management issues he highlighted). Millions upon millions of units sold, including perhaps a million more iPads this last weekend, would seem to suggest users aren’t finding issues with iOS’s virtual keyboard…and the point is in conflict with his own position on selling Dell touch-enabled Windows tablets. The iPad for 2012 has boosted internal specs that are impressive when benchmarked, may be comparable to laptops from a few years back, and are arguably irrelevant because tablet apps are optimized for tablets–processing power is a moot issue.

Then there’re the stats: A recent survey noted 12% of iPad owners in enterprise no longer use their laptop. Though you may quesiton the veracity of this survey, it sets a precedent and probably forms a clear mental image in your head: That of frustrated mobile execs, tired of wrestling with Excel and blue-screens-of-death and limited battery life, flinging aside their PCs and grabbing a 10-hour-battery-life iPad with no blue screens and a gentle, simple-to-use UI and way fewer error messages. Even if you dislike this data, then a different one–carried out before last week’s iPad reveal–says nearly 19% of businesses surveyed were going to buy iPads soon. If you’re talking about small-to-medium businesses then the iPad may be even more popular, according to still more research, with 34% using the devices in 2011 up from 9% in 2010–with perhaps the iPad’s lowish cost as an attraction.

And all this enterprise market penetration has happened largely on the strength of the device itself, without Apple aggressively pushing iPads at the sector or even optimizing it for the business user, as RIM tried with the PlayBook. There is, for example, no iOS Professional Edition 2012™.

Sure, Dell-branded Windows tablets may function more smoothly with Microsoft-formatted documents than is possible when trying to access them on iPads, for the die-hard user who won’t try anything other than Office. But there’s a growing suite of apps that aid with this process, and Microsoft itself may ultimately have to tackle the iPad as a market.


Then there’s all the excitement about consumerization and user choice in IT–a move that challenges many years of locked-down central policy on devices and software that once worked when enterprise software was expensive and complex, but which now looks positively Cold War-esque in an era when billions of clever apps are on sale for a handful of dollars and where an executive’s own smartphone may outperform their aging company-issued laptop, both in terms of raw power and connectivity.

As for Dell’s “coveted brand” we’re dubious. We’re not convinced we’d see huge lines of folks outside a Dell store to buy its latest hottest product. And big business names are warming to Apple products of all sorts very swiftly. 

So Dell is basically talking smack, with the same kind of reverse logic and cheek that lies at the heart of many a schoolyard shouting match, and with very little data to back it up. On the other hand, let’s note we’re pretty intrgued. If Dell really does put its muscle behind pushing tablets into enterprise, then it becomes an unlikely de facto champion of the death of the PC, no matter whether tablets are powered by iOS, Android, or Windows. And that’s something that seems to be edging ever sooner in time, rather than later.

[Image: Flickr user ebayink]

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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)