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Dell Chromebook sends a clear signal

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The unveiling of a new Chromebook was the clearest signal yet from Dell that it wants to cross the divide between the business user and the consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

For a company that is moving aggressively towards a software and solutions focus, Dell is making a lot of noise with its new hardware.

At the Dell World conference in Austin, Texas, last week, it made yet another product announcements that signaled a reinforcement of its computer offerings. It unveiled its first Chromebook a laptop using Google’s simplified Chrome OS operating system – targeted specifically at the education market in the United States and United Kingdom, and claiming 10 hours battery life.

The device follows the launch, in October, of two tablets the Venue 7 and 8 running Google’s Android operating system and a further two the Venue Pro 8 and 11 running on Microsoft Windows 8.1. And that’s just the beginning.

‚”We’re launching a lot more devices, a lot more form factors,‚” said Dell executive director of end-user computing, Margaret Franco in an interview. ‚”How are all these devices making any sense? In this new world, it starts with the use case of the customer. By understanding the end user and the application of the device, you can marry the right device to the right customer.‚”

Combined with Dell’s growing software and services capability, the wide range of devices appears to make for a solution range rather than merely a device range.

Franco concurs: ‚”If you just had a bunch of devices, you couldn’t drive value. You have to have consulting services, build or outsource applications, and provide enterprise networking and storage infrastructure.

‚”Post Dell being privatised, our strategy hasn’t changed. I’ve been in end-user computing for a long time, and this is one of the more exciting times to be in this area. The death of the PC has been forecast, but if you look at computing resources for end user and include tablets, the market is actually growing. ‚”

Margaret Franco , Dell executive director, End-User Computing, with colleagues.

The question is, however, whether this growing market will continue to gravitate towards the tablet giants, Apple and Samsung. Both have latched onto the so-called ‚”prosumer‚” demand by business users to have devices at work that are as ‚”cool‚” as the ones they use at home.

Franco believes the new product range reflects exactly this demand.

‚”If you look at Dell’s investment priorities and look at our array of devices, our XPS performance computers are targeted at consumers but sell to business users, and our array of enterprise devices is influenced by the same design emphasis that consumers want. The thinness of the products is very similar to what can be achieved in consumer marketplace. You are seeing business devices designed around the attributes of consumer devices.‚”

Dell has entered the tablet market before, when it produced the Dell Streak at the dawn of the tablet market in 2010. At a time when smartphone screens had not reached the current 5‚” standard, the same size display made for a small tablet rather than a large smartphone. There was practically no demand for it.

‚”As you enter these marketplaces that change so radically, you need to enter the market and learn. It was a really good form factor but before its time. From there we went back to the drawing board to understand who is the end user and what are the end user devices needed?‚”

South Africa, she says, could make for fascinating product options.

‚”The number of products sold in South Africa with 3G and 4G capability embedded is very high, much higher than many other markets. That’s a population of people who, in their devices, are already connected all the time. Think of the amount of innovations and applications that can be developed from that starting point.‚”

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