Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

Summary: Dell's new convertible Inspiron Duo is half laptop, half tablet, and arrives in the wake of the Streak tablet and Aero smartphone. What's it all mean? Five reasons why the company's consumer strategy is in trouble.


Dell on Tuesday revealed the "Inspiron Duo" during a keynote speech at the Intel's IDF conference this week. At the same time, it managed to reveal all that is wrong with its consumer strategy.

This "hybrid" device is essentially a laptop computer with a removable display -- we've seen this before, right Lenovo? -- and according to Engadget's Ross Miller, sports a 10-inch screen, dual-core Atom N550 and Microsoft Windows 7 Premium.


It should be released "at the end of the year." (Reminder: it's September.)

Other than that, we don't know anything -- no price, nothing.

And yet I cringe. And this video will make you cringe too:

Where's the design mojo? (Adamo, anyone?)

Why is Dell bothering us with what is effectively a glorified netbook?

Is this really the best Dell has going?

With those questions in mind, here are five reasons why Dell doesn't quite get consumers -- and why Dell ought to just stick to the enterprise, where it has a stronger strategy.

1.) Dell doesn't have a coherent mobile plan.

Dell first made a splash with an Android-based smartphone called the Mini that made it to U.S. shores as the Aero on AT&T. (Seen any walking around? Yeah, me neither.)

Then it came out with the Streak, which is, in so many words, a large-format Mini. Tech press excitedly touted it as the (expensive, undersized) answer to the Apple iPad, but it's no such thing. (Update: it's now an enterprise/industry play. Way to goose up publicity until now, guys!) Yet the device is supposed to lay the foundation for the company's future in the fast-growing mobile industry.

And now we have this: a device that is somehow both devices, sort of. The branding differs (it's in the laptop camp, and uses Windows) and its existence, in a way, undermines Dell's Streak strategy before it's even off the ground. How do all these products inform each other? On paper, they offer varying degrees of mobility. In reality, they offer contradictory solutions for communication and content consumption.

2.) Dell is still stuck in the hardware business.

Any company that has to focus on technological novelty -- it's colorful! it swivels! -- is missing something where it counts. The rap on Dell for years has been that the company is tethered to the hardware business that made it famous, despite a race to the bottom in margins.

While that still holds true, the effects of the company's "new culture" remain to be seen -- in the consumer electronics space, that is. Dell is making lots of money on the commercial side of the house, and it's a serious of interesting and occasionally shrewd moves. So if the focus is on the enterprise, why bother with whiz-bang consumer products at all, if they're only going to fall short?

3.) Dell lacks vision.

In the consumer electronics space. All of the products Dell has offered are me-too additions to the market: the Aero is a lackluster Android handset destined to play second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) fiddle to the iPhone on AT&T; the five-inch Streak solves no user problem as offered; the new Inspiron Duo appears to be neither a good laptop nor a good tablet. To me, this says there's a lot of glancing sideways going on, and not enough looking forward. How does the Inspiron Duo fit into the mobile portfolio? Or the laptop portfolio? Or more importantly: how does this fit into Dell's overall strategy?

4.) Dell is run by technologists.

Like the Aero and the Streak, the Inspiron Duo appears to be exactly the sum of its parts. No more. It lacks coherence as a product. It lacks a distinct user experience. It does not rise above its components, and judging by the way it was introduced (novelty! Intel inside!), it never will.

5.) Dell is grasping for relevance.

There are ideas coming out of Round Rock, and that's a good thing. The problem is that poor ones are moving too far along the development cycle.

The Adamo laptop comes to mind -- an ultrathin premium laptop, heavily advertised in women's magazines, that was extremely expensive in the wake of an economic downturn and, to boot, not superior, even from a hardware standpoint. (Hailed as a MacBook Air killer, the Adamo showed up to the fight over weight with an underpowered processor. But hey, at least it was marketed appropriately.)

The Streak is a novel size -- bigger than scrunched smartphones, smaller than heavy tablets -- but uses out-of-the-box Android. I don't know what it's supposed to be used for, and it has no content ecosystem to speak of beyond the Android market. That's a problem.

Now the Inspiron Duo is supposed to succeed where the Lenovo U1 Hybrid (introduced at CES 2010; still not out-of-the-gate) thus far failed.

The final word

There is plenty going on at Dell, but not much in the way of the consumer market. That's OK if you're an investor, but if you're a consumer, it leaves one wanting.

With the Inspiron Duo, as with all the products mentioned in this post, I simply wonder why Dell brings them to market at all. They are sketches of products, interesting and a necessary step but ultimately not for mass consumption. So why do they keep showing up at press conferences with empty promises?

Topics: Dell, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Not even in the game

    The iPad currently rules the roost.
    If you want to play, you have to come close.
    This Dell thing does not.
    • Take it another step

      You have to come, "close to Apple?" No, you have to beat them with something totally revolutionary that makes the iPad look last century, IMHO. That is the only way someone else will make any money and make a name for themselves. And until we see a company with the software developed in-house tied tightly to the hardware, with a great UI, it ain't going to happen.
    • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

      @davebarnes I am sorry but you cant say IPAD rule the roost because when it comes to "software development" my DUO rules because I have everything on it when I go out and i dont need remote desktops to do my work. So sit back and enjoy movies and songs on your IPAD while we work and watch movies at the same time on our DELL DUO
  • Two Good Things

    While I agree that the Inspirion Duo isn't that hot, there are two steps forward that solve current problems. For one, that center spot on which to swivel the screen around for convertible laptops is just asking to break. Finding a different solution is certainly worth some experimenting. Secondly, it does make a difference to have a keyboard, yet most convertible tablets are a pain in the neck to hold, because they don't feel like a cohesive unit with the swiveled screen laying down on the lower part of the unit - while slates certainly do. In that respect, their design is a step forward. BTW, whether the iPad rules the roost depends on your perspective. It has sold a lot of copies, and besides those who don't feel it meets their needs, there are surely many happy users. However, it solves a finite set of needs, and is unfit for a number of others, for which tablet PCs can be vastly superior. Just because there is a lot of noise for phone OSes on less powerful hardware doesn't mean there is no use for more powerful computing environments that use the slate form factor.
  • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

    Leaving aside the possible hardware problems (potential for the hinge to break), I actually think this device looks pretty elegant. The iPad is not a device I crave or would purchase, because there is no keyboard. I type very fast, and glass keyboards whether small or large just do not work for me. In spite of the author's comments, this Dell device is actually bringing together all of the good features of both the iPad and a traditional laptop.
    • RE: Five things

      @aglanz@... Nice try, but a two-second Google search for "Bluetooth keyboard for iPad" shows that you are just prejudiced against Apple.
      • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)


        What nonsense. Tell me, how do you hold the iPad and the keyboard at the same time, while typing? And how much extra is a bluetooth keyboard for the iPad, compared to the cost of this device?

        I've been wanting a netbook (the Alienware Mx11 is making me drool).

        Whether you can accept it or not, the iPad is just not suited to some people.
      • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

        I have a small pouch in which I carry my Inspiron DUO with the screen, a great keyboard and a great touch pad with the two regular mouse buttons all in one machine while you caarry more than one "machine" when you carry your IPAD with the BT KEYBOARD. Feel the difference IPAD is fun only while Dell DUO is fun + work
  • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

    Dell dropped the ball with the consumer a long time ago. Which is ironic since it was the consumer that built them up. I remember all the magazines touting Dell as having the best customer turn over ratio. The reason? Customer service. Unfortunately when they got big the corporate mindset kicked in. It became less about the product and the customer and more about the profit. We all know about the outsourcing of their customer service. Now this doesn't reflect their hardware strategies but does go to show how they have changed. They do so well with the Enterprise because they understand the corporate world. Unfortunately they have lost complete touch with the consumer. About the only smart thing they've done is take over Alienware, although even Alienware has lost a lot of it's prestige and connection with it's core market. I agree with aglanz that their new device has the right idea. Personally the Dell logo is enough to keep me away.
  • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

    Ummm nice try...this means to get the basic needs out of an ipad you have to spend more money on a device that just doesnt work, is missing the very basic of options and is involved in many class action law suits againt it for bing built poorly and faulty. Im not a fan of dell in the past but the streak and this new duo fit a bigger market need then the ipad at a lesser cost and no need to have to shell out more money just to do the very basic of things.. The ipad is no more then an ipod touch with a bigger screen which is fine if in your mind you can justify spending that much money on a music /video player. The ipad for productivity and web surfing just doesnt cut it. The duo is very intersting though as it gives the best of many world. i dont care for the color shown and it sems to have a few bugs to work out but the design and concept are very good ones. I be way more open to buying this then an ipad. It allows you more freedom, more usability, obviously better build quality as apples products are known for poor quality to repair techs, and it costs less and no need for a contract and your not rules by nazi Steve Jobs just to use it. The author seems to me maybe to have lost touch with the public as this item fits all the wants and things asked for the ipad just can't do.I'd like to see an android os option on it which would make it very very nice.
    • RE: five things

      @Fletchguy You get no "nice try" for this screed of prejudiced generalities. Let's have some specifics. Anyone can file a class action lawsuit, but the litigants are seldom successful; it proves nothing about the iPad.
      • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)


        It's not a screed. This device offers some things I want. The iPad *is* pretty much a media device. And it won't run Windows apps.
  • Dell lacks focus

    Dell seems to lack focus. Its running around jumping from one thing to another. But none of its new products will be shined and polished. But let's not totally blame Dell. I think the problem is the PC manufactures lack a small footprint OS to run on a Atom like CPU. Unlike Apple which has such a OS. I think PC manufacures have to use Android or get Microsoft to really shrink Windows 7 into something similar to IOS4.
  • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

    The Duo fills a couple real needs for people that need to:
    a) run MS Office offline (which you can't do on an iPad or an Android Tablet), and
    b) enables you to only have to purchase and/or travel with one device instead of two
    As a person that travels quite a bit that is both a business user and a consumer - I want both capabilities in a single device.
  • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

    Dell does have a vision: buy plastic by the train load and make as much cheap crap as possible. If they were really innovative, they would invest in landfills, which is where all of them will end up. Windows users are born losers.
  • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)

    I think it's pretty clever- I would probably use one because as much as I like the touch screen interface, I do need a keyboard and mouse sometimes.
    The only thing I don't like about it is that it runs windows, but I could fix that pretty easily. I have a feeling that banishing Windows from it would make it run better too...
    That being said, I wish they had made it look cooler. I think it's pretty ugly, personally speaking.
  • this thing is awesome!

    What's wrong with you people. No vision? Forget the vendor and love the form factor! If they hinge is well mounted (thinking a solid metal tube) and the connectors are all solid state (read: through the tubes); then this thing could be revolutionary!

    Think of it-- one of these rooted with Froyo. That's where the money is! It can be a laptop when you need it to be and it can be a tablet when you need it to be-- and it has its own dock. How cool is that!?!? If they dump Windows and let us choose whatever OS we can get working on there and keep this thing carrier agnostic with built in WiFi and optional carrier supported cell signal, it could be a hit!!
  • RE: Five things the Inspiron Duo tells me about Dell's strategy (or lack of one)