CES 2018: Dell Blows Past Market Boundaries

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  January 10, 2018

Of the dozen or so IT industry conferences I attend annually, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is easily the most over the top in terms of people, products, substance and hype. That’s partly due to the sheer size of of the event, but the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) leadership’s priorities also has a hand in the matter, especially when it comes to market hype.

In the former case, this year’s estimated 170,000 participants (down from last year’s 184k) will find Las Vegas’ vaunted ability to host parties of any size stretched to breaking. The streets will be crowded, transportation and parking will suck, and increased security due to the mass shooting last October near Mandalay Bay will make lines even longer than usual.

In the latter case, it only takes a couple of keynotes and press conferences to realize that just below its glittery surface, CES is always on the hunt for the Next Big Thing. That’s not surprising in an industry exquisitely sensitive to consumer whims. But it can lead to extravagant claims about products and trends that stink well before their sell-by date. Anyone remember the unending hype around 3D TVs from 2010-2013? The CEA wishes you wouldn’t.

I’m occasionally asked why, given my focus on business tech, I bother with CES. There are two reasons. First, the walls between consumer and business IT have never been thinner, meaning that much of what’s in play this week in Las Vegas will eventually impact workplaces. Second, since consumer-centric technologies increasingly largely depend on transparent data center-based services, what occurs this week will eventually impact businesses around the world.

In other words, what happens in Vegas at CES definitely doesn’t stay in Vegas.

The conference can also be valuable for the insights it offers on specific vendors’ upcoming plans and strategies. This year, I’ve been particularly struck by the depth of Dell’s new/updated products, software innovations and the breadth of its market vision. Here are some thoughts on that.

Engineering excellence

In the decade since Michael Dell returned to the CEO position, the company has made substantial design and development investments, resulting in stylish yet powerful new products and significant advances in areas like materials science. That was clearly apparent in the first gen XPS 13 laptops Dell launched in 2012 which was designed to take on/take down Apple’s vaunted MacBook Air (it did), and incorporated advanced carbon fibre materials that significantly reduced weight and improved heat dissipation.

Since then, the XPS 13 line has been massively popular, won numerous awards, and helped Dell continue its significant, ongoing gains in market share. The line also continues to provide a foundation for new materials innovations, including the new Rose Gold with Alpine White woven glass fiber interior option introduced at CES this week. The new laptop is visually and tactilely stunning but also offers other notable advances. Those include GORE Thermal Insulation to diffuse and dissipate heat, which allows Dell’s Power Manager great flexibility in system power management and distribution.

In addition, many of the same features and capabilities leveraged in last year’s XPS 13 2-in-1 have been extended to its bigger brother in the new XPS 15 2-in-1. Dell calls it the thinnest, smallest 15.6 inch 2-in-1 available, but while notably light and portable, the new system has enough graphics horsepower to handle content creation apps, process huge files and play AAA games. In other words, the new XPS 15 2-in-1 is a great system for both work and play, a point that will warm many creator customers’ hearts.

Finally, both the new XPS 13 and the XPS 15 2-in-1 share some fundamental attributes, including Intel’s latest 8th gen Core processors and Dell’s next-generation InfinityEdge 4K Ultra HD display. The new XPS 13 is available on Dell.com, Microsoft.com and at Microsoft stores starting at $999.00. The Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 will be available in the U.S. on Dell.com in April starting at $1,299.99.

Mobilizing Latitude

Dell is also bringing new innovations to its Latitude portfolio of business laptops. The line has been fully refreshed with the latest dual-core and quad-core 8th Gen Intel Core vPro 15W processors, significantly boosting performance and productivity, and making it easier than ever for IT to manage and run encryption, malware scans and other background applications for securing employees and workplaces.

The refreshed line also sports several “hidden” innovations. For example, the Latitude 7490 incorporates an active steering antenna that enhances WiFi range, speed and connection reliability. It also offers a full HD, super low power display that notably reduces power consumption.

Finally, Dell introduced what it said is both the world’s most compact Thunderbolt 3 storage device and one of the fastest portable drives available: the Dell Portable Thunderbolt SSD 1000 (1TB) and SSD 500 (500GB) SSDs. Both will be available on dell.com beginning on February 2th.

Breaking down PC/phone barriers

One of the more intriguing Dell announcements this week focused on the company’s new Mobile Connect technology for integrating smart phone and notebook functions.

How does the Mobile Connect work? First, a user downloads the appropriate smart phone app from either the Apple Store or Google Play, then connects his/her phone to the PC via Bluetooth and WiFi Direct and activates the Mobile Connect application (which will be pre-loaded on new Dell PCs but is also available for download now).

Once the secure connection is established, the phone’s apps and data are mirrored to the notebook and users can access, use and control apps with the keyboard, mouse and touch functions. You can see and control the notifications that come in to your phone and screen, take and make calls, and send texts using the PC. The phone’s data remains on the phone and is only accessible on the paired PC while the phone is within range.

Final analysis

Why do I believe Dell Mobile Connect is a relatively big deal? Because it largely removes the barriers that Apple and Google have built between their mobile (iOS and Android) and desktop (MacOS and Chrome) environments.

That chafes at the many end users who would like to see greater integration between their heterogeneous devices, and rumors have circulated for years that Apple/Google might eventually address the problem. But with Mobile Connect Dell has simply and elegantly rendered the issue largely irrelevant, at least for owners of Dell PCs.

Some may be less than impressed by Mobile Connect, seeing it as a fix for what is, at best, a minor problem. But as global consumers seek out more seamless experiences and increasingly individualized products, it’s difficult to quibble with Dell’s broader market strategy.

The company has long focused on developing solutions and features that help it stand out, used those to differentiate premium products and platforms, and then eventually migrated those same technologies across its portfolio. As an example, the carbon fibre composite originally developed for the XPS 13 has substantially enhanced most all of the company’s mobile solutions, including lowering the weight of Dell’s hefty Rugged Latitude notebooks and tablets.

Over time, I expect we’ll see the company make similar use of the Alpine White woven glass fiber offered optionally in the updated XPS 13 line, along with its other technological enhancements.

Overall, Dell is utilizing CES as a platform for revealing both the enhanced value it is delivering to customers today, as well as a peek at the innovations even more of them will enjoy tomorrow. That melding of short- and long-term vision is hardly a new thing for Michael Dell and company, but it remains elusive for all too many of the companies attending CES 2018.

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