Dell sees room to challenge Apple in tablets

LONDON Fri Mar 16, 2012 2:33pm EDT

Dell's chief commercial officer Steve Felice poses for photographs during an interview with Reuters in central London March 16, 2012. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Dell's chief commercial officer Steve Felice poses for photographs during an interview with Reuters in central London March 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - A growing dissatisfaction among office workers with the clunky computers their employers force them to use, in contrast to the sleek Apple devices many have at home, could yet benefit incumbent suppliers like Dell, a top Dell executive said.

As Apple's third-generation iPad went on sale on Friday, accompanied by the now traditional scenes of fans queuing round the block , Dell's chief commercial officer Steve Felice said the tablet market was still wide open.

Dell ditched its previous attempt at cracking the global tablet market, the Streak, last year. It was based on Google's Android operating system software.

Now Dell is planning a fresh assault with the advent of Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating platform, which is expected later this year and will have a touch interface that works across desktop computers, tablets and smartphones.

"We're very encouraged by the touch capability we are seeing in the beta versions of Windows 8," Felice told Reuters in an interview in London, adding that Dell may also make Android tablets again.

"We have a roadmap for tablets that we haven't announced yet. You'll see some announcements.. for the back half of the year," he said. "We don't think that this market is closed off in any way."

Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and possibly Nokia are also planning Windows 8 tablets.

Felice said that Dell's relationships with its thousands of business customers gave it an advantage over Apple, whose gadgets can cause headaches for IT departments because they operate on different systems.

As iPads and iPhones have become popular from the boardroom down, corporate technology chiefs have been increasingly forced to accept the fact that employees will use their own devices.

"On the commercial side there are a lot of concerns about security, interoperability, systems and device management, and I think Dell is in the best position to meet those," Felice said.

He added that iPads also left much to be desired in terms of processing power and ease of typing. "When people put their computer to the side and take their iPad with them to travel, you see a lot of compromises being made."

Dell has also just launched a so-called ultrabook, a high-end notebook that is light and thin but still at least as powerful as a regular laptop. The XPS 13 costs about $995.

"The demand has been excellent since we launched this product just a week ago," Felice said. "It is a fantastic product and shows our commitment to the PC space. We like the PC space. We are extremely committed to it."

Dell, the world's third-biggest computer maker after HP and Lenovo, has also been expanding its services offering to reduce its dependence on sales of computers, where margins are being squeezed and growth is slowing.

Taking Mac and iPad sales together, Apple sold more computers last year than any of the top PC makers.

Asked whether he envied Apple's ability to produce such coveted objects, Felice said: "We come at the market in a different way ... We are predominantly a company that has a great eye on the commercial customer who also wants to be a consumer."

"In the areas where we come at the market, we think we are a coveted brand."

(Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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