Dell throws in the towel on smartphones in U.S.

Dell exits the U.S. smartphone market in an attempt to start over. It's a temporary setback for a key entry point into the enterprise.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

"Go hard or go home."

If you played sports as a kid, as I did, you are no doubt familiar with this oft-used phrase. It's a small part of the well-worn tradition in sports of girding oneself before a game, a verbal alternative to the reassuring routine of jumping up and down in place, slapping tensed muscles and hollering.

It is preparation to go to battle. It is a singular focus: win.

That focus was not on display this morning as computer maker Dell reportedly pulled out of the U.S. smartphone market, ceasing sales on the Venue and Venue Pro and retreating with its tail between its legs.

"With the consumerization of IT in the enterprise, Dell is focusing more on mobile devices that can be used for both work and home," IDG's Agam Shah reports.

And yet that's exactly the opposite of what happened here. Dell entered the smartphone market by recognizing the mobile device as a key entry point into the lucrative enterprise, then barely made a splash. It's like showing up to the Super Bowl with the Duluth Bulldogs -- Apple played by the New England Patriots, RIM played by the Indianapolis Colts or Samsung played by the New Orleans Saints, naturally -- there's a chance of an upset, but it's more than likely that you're going home with a highlight reel of gaffes.

(CNET's review of the Aero: "...a huge disappointment." The Venue: "...falls short of the competition." The Venue Pro: "...shouldn't disappoint." The Streak 7 tablet: "...not enough to distract us." Not exactly the stuff that will shake you from the status quo -- though it takes more than good hardware to win at this game.)

To be fair, Dell's down and not out -- it still sells mobile devices in China, India and other high-growth markets. It will try again. But it's a damn shame that the company had to enter the mobile market -- clearly the dominant one over the next 10 years, no doubt about it -- in a somewhat get-rich-quick, quarter-over-quarter desperation move, rather than a clear-eyed, long-term, strong-hand-at-the-helm strategy. Whatever internal consternation it may have experienced in getting those phones and tablets out the door, it was not nearly enough effort to truly put a dent in the market.

One of the four key pillars for Dell in 2012 is to "deliver solutions that customers value," and through that arrive at another pillar, "capture growing share of IT profit pool."

Michael Dell himself hinted at this hardware-to-services hand-off just over a year ago:

On smartphones and tablets, we were very pleased to introduce the new Venue and Venue Pro which are Android and Windows Mobile 7 based 4.1 inch products. You’ll see us enter the 10-inch tablet space with both Android, Honeycomb and Windows later on this year. And we think those will be reasonable platforms for us to participate more broadly in this space. Now we have also rolled out services for mobility because we see many customers really looking to integrate these mobility solutions into their environments and that is a source of demand inside our services unit.

If the company really wants to mirror its traditional computer business in the mobile sector -- enterprise services and hardware, together, in a turnkey portfolio -- it's going to have to get its mobile act together. Not just enter -- win.

Go hard or go home.

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