Dell Expands XPS/Explores New Venues

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.

It doesn’t take a genius to perceive the difficulties mainline PC vendors have faced over the past 3-4 years. As user preferences have shifted toward ultramobile products, including smart phones and tablets, PC makers and core allies, such as Microsoft in their attempts to keep up have suffered enough stumbles, false starts and pratfalls to populate a “Hangover” movie.

Apple, the market’s leading mobility vendor, and its various partners and supporters (among others) have seized on these events to proclaim the market has entered a “post-PC era.” But what that’s supposed to mean exactly is a bit slippery. Stumbles aside, IDC estimates that vendors will still sell somewhere north of 325M desktop and notebook computers in 2013, which is hardly chump change unless you’re Tim Cook.

Also, even though sales of tablets continue to ramp, evidence suggests many consumers are adopting them as adjuncts to, not outright replacements for, PCs. That goes double in businesses where smart phones and tablets continue to struggle in many corporate functions and markets. In fact, compared to business-ready PCs and notebooks, tablets resemble nothing so much as ambitiously suicidal unicyclists who enter the Tour de France.

Finally, the key to success in ultramobility has long been a moving target. Consider the initial launch of the iPad, where slick design, low cost (relative to Apple’s pricey desktops and notebooks) and remarkable battery life trumped significant shortcomings, like the lack of support for multi-tasking, Flash and external storage.

As tablets matured, evolving hardware capabilities and growing app ecosystems helped increase their market momentum. But the fact is that no single app or feature is critical to most, let alone all tablet sales. Instead, flexibility and adaptability are the key attributes driving uptake of ultramobile devices, just as they have long been for notebooks and desktop PCs.

From Ultra-Light to Ultra-Bright

That brings us to the new/enhanced XPS notebooks and new Venue tablets that Dell launched last week. In short, the announcement found the company spreading its bets across a broad range of mobile markets and constituencies.

Dell’s XPS family has long targeted early adopters and heavy users of technology who expect systems to robustly support work and play, and anything in between. Along with refreshing the entire XPS line with Intel’s 4th generation “Haswell” Core chips and technologies, delivering notable boosts in both compute performance and battery life, Dell is also expanding the XPS family at the low and high end.

The former point is highlighted by the XPS 11 which pushes Intel’s Ultrabook concept to unseen extremes of thinness, compactness and lightness. A new hinge allows the XPS 11’s display to fold all the way back, allowing it to function as a tablet. Some will say this makes the system resemble Lenovo’s Yoga, but keep in mind that the XPS 11 weighs 0.8lbs less, making the Yoga appear a bit downwardly doggy.

At the latter high end, the XPS 15 is evolving into a flagship multimedia platform that squeezes a bright, stunningly high resolution 15.6-inch Quad HD+ (3200 x 1800) display into an ultra-thin wedge design weighing in at 4.4lbs. Aimed at tech enthusiasts, the XPS 15 offers performance options including NVIDIA discrete graphics and solid state drive configurations from 500GB to 1TB (both incorporating a 32GB mSATA SSD), to a 512GB solid state drive.

Changing Venues for New Markets

Dell’s new Venue tablets find the company moving in separate yet highly complementary directions. The Venue 7 and 8 Android tablets are clearly aimed at media-minded consumers who want easy wi-fi connectivity whenever and wherever they go. There is no shortage of competitors here, including Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire. But Dell’s inclusion of front and back cameras and HD displays with IPS show that the company means to be a serious player with the Venue 7 and 8.

The Windows 8-based Venue 8 Pro and Venue 11 Pro find Dell aiming at the business markets it knows very, very well. Plus, changes that Microsoft made to the new Windows 8.1 release, including the return of the Start button and optional cold booting to the traditional Windows desktop should help overcome the allergic reaction to Windows 8 that we’ve seen among many commercial organizations.

We’ll also be intrigued to see how Dell positions the value proposition of smaller-sized business tablets. We believe there are significant opportunities there that no vendor—including Apple—has succeeded in envisioning or capturing.

Final Analysis

Overall, Dell’s new/enhanced products find the company considerably strengthening its position and expanding its horizons. The considerable additions and enhancements to the XPS family make it one of the strongest product lines in the industry for technology enthusiasts and heavy users in both the consumer and business world.

The launch of new Venue tablets embracing both the Android and Windows 8 ecosystems sees Dell wholeheartedly jumping into the deep end of the ultramobility pool. Given its understanding of consumers’ and business users’ fundamental needs and the trends driving those markets, we expect the company and its customers to succeed whatever their choice of Venue.

Overall, the new/enhanced XPS Ultrabooks and Venue tablets find Dell going its own way but also continuing to focus on developing and delivering innovative solutions for company customers’ biggest problems. Just as it has done in the past, we expect this approach to spark continuing and future success for both Dell and its clients.

© 2013 Pund-IT, Inc. All rights reserved.