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Is Dell getting its mojo back with new tablets and notebook PCs?

Diana Hwang

NEW YORK -- Michael Dell's initiative to take Dell private sailed past regulatory obstacles this week while the company attempts to make strides and become a leader in tablets and notebooks PCs.

The company unveiled what analysts believe are attractive bring your own device (BYOD) products and a cloud service that may give corporate IT shops reason to notice Dell in the sea of mobile computing platforms.

"Dell has the innovation to get its mojo back," said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc., an IT consulting firm based in San Jose, Calif. "It's the best line up I've seen from them in many years. They're serious about mobile."

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Dell has the innovation to get its mojo back.

Tim Bajarin, president, Creative Strategies Inc.

Dell going private frees up the organization to push harder, take more innovation risks and be aggressive without concerns about the company's stock, said Neil Hand, vice president of tablet and performance PC computing.

The company also pushed PocketCloud, originally developed by Wyse, which Dell acquired last year. It has evolved into a multi-device file synchronization and storage service, similar to Apple's iCloud, allowing users to access their own personal cloud from any device.

"I think [PocketCloud is] a bigger deal [now] because it reflects the fact that people are buying more devices," said Bob O'Donnell, program vice president for clients and displays at IDC, of Framingham, Mass.

Dell Android and Windows 8 tablet lineup

With its new devices, Dell joins the frenzy of hardware manufacturers refreshing their tablet and notebook PC line up during the fourth quarter. The company's launch of its new Venue 7- and 8-inch Android-based tablets, Dell Venue 8 and 11 Pro Windows 8 tablets, as well as the new lineup of XPS 11-, 13- and 15-inch devices, reach both the enterprise and consumer markets.

These two product lines span the consumer and commercial strategies, said Sam Burd, Dell's vice president and general manager of the PC product group. Depending upon the model, the products have features for deploying and managing the devices, as well as security features that are attractive to the IT community.

The new notebooks also come with Quad HD displays and are some of the first manifestations of Intel Corp.'s new Bay Trail chipset.

Companies are likely to deploy these devices and end users are expected to buy them for personal use and work, analysts said.

"Get the consumers excited about the product and IT will be ecstatic," said Robert Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, an IT consulting firm in San Jose, Calif. "It's none a moment too soon," noting that competitors such as Amazon are beginning to make an enterprise IT push as well.

Dell tablet and notebook pricing

Dell's Android tablets begin at $149; the Venue Pro tablets begin at $499; and the XPS notebooks list from $999 to $1,499.

Dell's Venue Pro 11 competes directly against partner Microsoft's Surface Pro lineup.  

"The 11-inch [tablet] looks to be a solid Surface Pro alternative, both on price and function," said Chris Silva, principal analyst and founder of High Rock Strategy LLC, of Melrose, Mass. "It's… not surprising to see a manufacturer with a legacy in laptop design nail the idea of a 'convertible' tablet using accessories."

Windows RT doesn't make the cut

Dell won't develop any more Windows RT-based tablets, Hand said. Hand noted although he likes the new Windows 8 modern interface he acknowledged it was a challenge for Windows RT to capture early successes.  

Dell was one of the last vendors to sell Windows RT tablets, and just recently pulled the ability to purchase these devices from its website. Microsoft admitted its own failure with a $900 million inventory charge during its 2013 fiscal fourth quarter ending in June.

Meanwhile, analysts also said for Windows 8.1 and tablet makers to gain ground in the enterprise, Office needs to get updated to the modern interface. And that onus is put upon Microsoft, not Dell.

"The problem is Office. Office is still on the old interface," said Enderle. The updated Office interface won't be available until next year, he added.

However, companies that rely on Windows may still see the value in deploying Windows-based mobile devices. A number of schools and universities have done so as a way to streamline desktop and device management.


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