While there is a lot of attention placed on tablets, they are still largely aimed at the consumer market. The business market, at least for now, is still wedded to the PC and the vast majority of business PCs remain on Windows. Dell took it on the chin the last couple of years as the economy and problems with Windows Vista locked business buyers out of the market for a cycle.
Well, that cycle is now over. Windows 7 tested very well, and economic conditions have improved to the point where companies are buying PCs again.
However, over the last few years, the business market has changed and users and line managers have more control over what is being bought. They want something that meets their personal needs as well as the needs of IT, which include reliability and manageability. Dell and other business-focused PC OEMs must address both needs.
This week Dell announced the largest business PC line refresh in its history to do exactly that and I attended the launch in San Francisco. These are my impressions.
End to End
Dell started its presentation by reminding the audience that though it was announcing desktops, behind these desktops are a set of cloud services that protect the data, provide secure access to key applications and provide the management infrastructure to ensure low lifecycle costs for the entire solution. And this solution now must increasingly include the entire ecosystem and this ecosystem is increasingly leveraging the cloud. I don't think any company that is serious about this segment can ever again forget that the PC no longer stands alone. In the midmarket, which is where most of you live, Dell emphasized its unique KACE tools for management that it had acquired.
One of the new concepts working through IT is desktop virtualization. The newest idea in virtualization is having two personalities for a business PC-one for the user's personal needs and the other for business. This better assures that IT can protect the business intellectual property assets, while accepting that users will use the hardware for personal needs as well, and both will be kept separate. By providing two virtualized environments, Dell is offering a solution that can better meet the needs of both audiences.
Users want to be proud of the product they are using, and a key to that is creating a design that most would find attractive. Moving heavily to metals, but including well-concealed windows for the huge number of wireless antennas that current generation laptops require, this is the premier product line from a design perspective. One key feature that hit me personally is the option of backlit keyboards across the line. I often work in low light and the lighted keyboard is a huge benefit for me, which is why I often carry a gaming laptop rather than a business box. Single door rear access for upgradable parts and a universal bay (extra battery, optical/magnetic drive choices, etc.) provide for a flexibility that is unique in that it covers the entire line. Modern but elegant, the design language does, at least to my eye, convey the required elements that make the product both attractive and professional.
OptiPlex Build Your Own All-in-One
The issue with typical all-in-one designs is a lack of flexibility. Dell has revisited the modular all-in-one with this refresh. While it isn't as elegant as an integrated all-in-one, it does provide a level of flexibility with regard to onsite configuration. Rather than build a product for a class that still hasn't been a huge success in the business space outside of Asia, Dell built one that is well-differentiated. It gives buyers a choice and choice is always a good thing.
Dell 10-inch Windows Tablet
With the actual numbers of the Samsung Galaxy Tab-the tablet that was supposed to create a threat to the iPad last year-estimated at below 250,000 units, and the expected failure of the Motorola Xoom, it is starting to look like an Apple market. But in the business environment the iPad still is a hard sell, suggesting that a Windows tablet may be a better short-term choice. Dell showcased its new 10-inch Windows tablet with Intel technology. Given how poorly Android has done to date and the mixed reviews that the RIM Playbook has received, Windows, even Windows 7, may be the best chance to provide a non-Apple alternative.
This product isn't complete or running yet, so while I can say that it is attractive, so much of the success of this product will depend on the complete solution that surrounds it. I don't have enough information at this point to say if it will be competitive. But Dell will be focusing on vertical markets like health care, finance, manufacturing and insurance where the business need is highest and it can better differentiate itself from a consumer-focused offering.
Wrapping Up: Dell's Coming Back
Dell has been on a design path for some time, but this is arguably its strongest redesign. It showcases how the company is restructuring its products to address the split needs of the user and the business IT department. Like everything else, it isn't my taste that matters but yours; however, from my perspective, it clearly is one of the best product lines that Dell, or anyone else, has brought to market.