How Dell Beat Apple on the Desktop at CES Using a Dolby Practice

Rob Enderle
Slide Show

How to Create a Culture of Innovation

Two of the breakout products at CES were the Dell XPS 27 and the Dell Canvas which, in concert, form a far more advanced solution for creators than the Apple iMac, which has formed the core of the industry standard for years. How Dell got this done was unusual for the industry and, I think, is the basis for a best practice for the industry. After I’d met with Dell, I had breakfast with Dolby and realized the practice Dell used has been in place at Dolby for years and is a critical part of a process it couldn’t survive without.

Dolby’s Process

Dolby has a very difficult business model because it doesn’t really build a product; it supplies a technology that is a part of a solution. Whether we are talking Dolby Atmos sound or Dolby Digital video, the company not only has to convince a studio to use the technology, but has to convince equipment makers, both consumer and industry (those that build projectors) to build it, and it still has to convince consumers to prefer it. This means Dolby has to navigate nasty conundrums: The equipment maker won’t support it if the customer doesn’t want it; the customer won’t want it unless there is content and equipment; and the studio won’t want it unless there is equipment to play it and consumers will prefer it.

To get around this mess, Dolby focuses like a laser on the folks who drive the creation of the content, because these people want their efforts showcased in the best possible way, and then uses them to convince the equipment makers to support it and to help convince consumers to buy it. The degree of difficulty is through the roof, but I spent some time looking at TVs and sound bars supporting Dolby’s latest and the end experience is impressive. Sadly, that means in a few months, your TV and related sound system will become obsolete again.

But the lesson here is that if you focus like a laser on the critical customers and involve them in the creation process, in this case the folks who actually drive the creation of films, you can do what likely would otherwise be impossible.

Dell’s Workstation Revolution

Dell, and a lot of us, noticed that a few years back, Apple started taking its PC customers for granted. Apple’s customer base is incredibly valuable because they not only are willing to pay for a premium experience, they are largely creators, making them incredible advocates for the technology they use in their own industries and vertical segments.


So Dell, in a process very similar to Dolby’s, brought in musicians, artists and companies like Avid to help it build the next-generation iMac without Apple. The results, the XPS 27 and Dell Canvas, are nothing short of amazing. It is hard to explain and this solution is really something you actually need to see. But, in effect, this is an all-in-one with a brilliant touch screen and front firing studio monitor speakers, coupled with a second touch screen workspace working in concert. That second screen, the Canvas element, becomes a universal interface that can be changed, depending on the application, to emulate a huge variety of tools specialized for music creation, video editing and engineering, among other things. Anything that can be emulated visually, Canvas should be able to do, including things with physical knobs.

But by working directly with the key people who are most likely to buy the product, Dell not only got a much better offering, it got a huge pool of advocates who are now out praising the result. Advocacy is not only one of the strongest sales tools, it is also one Apple is famous for leading in.

Wrapping Up: The Power of the User Advocate

All of this showcases the power of engaging influential users when trying to revolutionize a market or just building something better. Dolby would be out of business without this practice, which is why it is such a critical part of the process. And Dell’s use of it is largely why the XPS 27 and Dell Canvas are so amazing and heavily advocated by the core people who use them.

One final observation is that as I was leaving the Dell venue, I ran into a team from Dolby wanting to talk to Dell about putting its technology into this solution. I expect something even more amazing with result.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

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