The new Dell: innovation, not just standards, to attract business customers

Dell is unveiling a new Latitude business notebook computer today but it's a bit different from what Dell - at least the old Dell - used to represent. When Dell first hit the scene, it made a name for itself by focusing on standardized technology and the business model that allowed customers to pick and choose the extras for their own computer.

Dell is unveiling a new Latitude business notebook computer today but it's a bit different from what Dell - at least the old Dell - used to represent. When Dell first hit the scene, it made a name for itself by focusing on standardized technology and the business model that allowed customers to pick and choose the extras for their own computer. Innovation wasn't a word often seen in Dell press releases. Companies like HP and Sony were selling innovation back then; Dell was selling affordable PCs to the masses.

That's why it's interesting to see this new Latitude Z, a thin and light notebook that comes with so many cool bells and whistles that the nerdy business types will likely put this one on the top of the must-check-out lists when Windows 7 launches later this month - even with a $2,000 price tag.

I'll spare you the details on what's cool and appealing about this particular notebook. My colleague Andrew Nusca gave it a pretty thorough once-over in a post on the ToyBox blog. And galleries can be found here and here.

What I will make note of is that Dell seems to be serious about reinventing itself, especially for business customers.

Dell seems to have recognized that today's customers are willing to pay a premium for features that increase the efficiency of employees and offer the tools that they need to make their lives and jobs easier. They recognize the value in useful features. Consider this excerpt from Andrew's post:

... you'll notice a fingerprint reader and a contactless RFID card scanner (yes, that's right: security via your company ID) where your palms rest. The 16-inch HD (1600x900) LCD WLED backlit display is topped off with an optional 2-megapixel autofocus webcam and microphone for videoconferencing. In a nod to business types, the Latitude Z comes with Dell Capture Business Card Reader and Document Scanner software, which allows you to hold up a business card or document to the built-in webcam and it will literally pull the information off the photographed document and put it in usable text form, no extra equipment needed... The built-in webcam also works with Dell FaceAware, which locks out others when you step away from the system.

Like Andrew, I like this machine, largely because of the tools mentioned above. And I'm eager to give it a test run - yes, this Mac guy just wrote that - but only if its running Windows 7.

Image Gallery: Dell Latitude Z

Image Gallery: Hands-on with Dell Latitude Z

That brings me to the one thing about today's launch that confused me.

Why would Dell release this notebook today instead of next month with the release of Windows 7? It ships today with Windows XP or Windows Vista. It will run Windows 7 when Microsoft's new OS is released. Around the same time, two of the most appealing peripherals - a dock that wirelessly charges the laptop and a wireless device that allows the PC to wirelessly connect to external speakers and displays - will also be released.

I don't understand why Dell would even bother to offer XP or Vista on this notebook. Is there going to be a market for high-end business notebooks running XP for the next three weeks? I can't think of any scenario where a business customer will be willing to drop $2,000 for a laptop that's running an old OS. Let's put XP and Vista in the history books already. We've waited this long for Windows 7. It certainly wouldn't have killed us to wait a few more weeks for the Latitude Z, running Win7.

Dell should have known that.