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How Dell can win in mobility

What made Dell famous was mass customization. Back in the day when PCs had a wide variety of options and price points Dell made money by selling direct and producing on demand. Maybe it's time we applied that lesson to mobility.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive

Matt Asay thinks Dell should put its mobility market dreams away.

Reports are already coming in that Dell is ignoring Matt's advice and trotting out something called the MePhone in Barcelona. There will be two versions, Android and Windows Mobile.

If that's all they got then Matt's absolutely right.

If Dell does look inside its own DNA, as he suggests, there is another way to go which might yield success.

What made Dell famous was mass customization. Back in the day when PCs had a wide variety of options and price points Dell made money by selling direct and producing on demand.

Maybe it's time we applied that lesson to mobility.

There are an increasing number of options faced by buyers of mobile devices. Keyboard? ASCII keyboard? Touchscreen? How big? How much memory you want? Which carrier are you on? You want WiFi with that? A GPS? Bar-code reader? A better camera?

Then think about vertical markets, like the medical market I cover. How about a device that lets you create and download health records, with security and audit trails? One that tracks you on the hospital campus, but you can use in your own office as well, and at home? Aren't there other professions with specific requirements -- lawyers, truckers, Presidents of the United States?

What today's phone makers do is make a bunch of different phone designs, with different feature sets sold at different price points. But we're not talking about phones here, as I've said many times. We're talking about mobile Internet clients.

And wouldn't it be great if you could buy a client you could upgrade?

Any basic design would quickly be called clunky by critics, even if it were (superficially) an iPhone clone. (Then it would be called a clunky copycat clone, or maybe a Klunky Kopycat Klone by the truly snarky.) You can't re-create the old ISA bus, they'll say. You can't change the market like that.

Well, why not? So long as a really tricked-out device can be priced at $700 there is some margin to play with. You could find quick success in Europe and Asia, where GSM is a standard and people are accustomed to taking their phones from carrier-to-carrier.

What you're selling is the opportunity to keep an Internet client for three-to-five years, rather than buying a new phone every six months and having to re-train it.

Then there are the services you can sell on top of it, like syncing, upgrades, and service.

If Dell could concentrate on the Android platform, which is still unformed, Dell can define it.

But what do I know?

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