In a copycat PC industry, Dell is trying to attract attention with the innovative features and technology firsts that it is bringing to PCs and tablets.
Dell is adding new hardware and software features that could make an otherwise mundane PC or tablet more attractive to customers. Buyers may have to pay more for the features, but like Apple, Dell hopes to establish a reputation as an innovator and establish a fan base.
The 8-inch Venue 8 7000 tablet, for example, has drawn attention for its creative design. Unveiled earlier this month at the Intel Developer Forum, it's the world's thinnest tablet at 6 millimeters thick and includes Intel's RealSense 3D depth-sensing camera. The camera can determine size, distance and contours of objects, which could enhance videoconferencing or make it easier to capture a 3D image for 3D printing.
Historically, the company was not known as a great innovator. It started out in CEO Michael Dell's dorm room 30 years ago and made strides as a maker of low-cost IBM PC clones selling direct to end users. After going public, and various ups and downs over the years, it became a private company once again last year. Though Michael Dell and investment partners fought a protracted battle with some big shareholders to take the company private, the dust kicked up by the privatization fight seems to have settled.
In fact, the privatization has helped tune out distractions and helped the company focus on improving products, said Kirk Schell, vice president of the commercial PC product group.
There's a lot of energy in Dell's PC operations, Schell said.
"The privatization seems to have focused the company on the purpose and the customer," Schell said. "The amount of time now that we have freed up by being private, we get to spend with ... customers and really honing how we improve our company and product line."
Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Asustek have been innovative in their own right, but Dell has been pragmatic about balancing the adoption of new technologies with the price of PCs, said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.
"Dell's always wanted to be stylish and had mixed results in that department," Kay said. "Because they are no longer reporting to Wall Street, they can be more competitive."
The company can now boast some industry firsts, several of which are tied to the Venue 8. For example, it was also the first to bring wireless charging capabilities to tablets with a dock for Venue 8.
In the external display market, Dell was among the first to introduce a 5K screen with the UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD, which can display images at a 5120 x 2880 pixel resolution and will become available later this year.
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