Dell apparently has its eye on crafting a business-centric Windows 8 tablet.
"Having a secure Windows tablet that works with all the Windows applicationswe're hearing a lot of demand for that, and we think that will be quite attractive," Michael Dell, CEO of his eponymous company, said on the Bloomberg West television show.
That's unsurprising, considering Dell's past comments on the matter. Speaking to analysts and journalists on an August 2011 conference call, he said, "Our early work on Windows 8 on the tablet side looks to be pretty encouraging." At the time, he also suggested the company was "quite interested" in Google Android.
Dell originally loaded Android into its line of Streak tablets, which failed to excite the marketplace in the same way as Apple's iPad. The original 5-inch Streak suffered something of an identity crisis, with many reviewers asking whether it was a large smartphone or a small tablet. Dell then issued the 7-inch Streak, only to stop selling it (along with the 5-inch edition) by December 2011.
Dell viewed Android as a way to break into the consumer tablet market. Windows 8 tablets, however, offer the prospect of a sustained enterprise play. This dovetails with Microsoft's intentions for its next-generation operating system, which it will aim at not only consumers, but also the wide variety of businesses that rely on Microsoft infrastructure for everyday business processes. Windows 8 is scheduled to hit the market later in 2012.
For Dell, the rise of tablets presents a particular conundrum. For several quarters, analysts have debated over whether the popularity of mobile touch screens correlates directly with slowing PC sales worldwide. Whatever the actual answer, it's unequivocal that PCs are experiencing a soft patch, sales-wise, which in turn could affect a PC manufacturer like Dell in negative ways.
Hence the continued focus on tablets, despite the failure of the Streak experiment. On a macro level, Dell might also position itself as less a PC-manufacturing concern and more a purveyor of IT services. "We're no longer a PC company, we're an IT company," Brad Anderson, president of Dell's Enterprise Solutions, told PC Pro during a February event in London. "It's no longer about shiny boxes, it's about IT solutions."
But that path also carries significant risks. In 2011, Hewlett-Packard attempted a similar repositioning, acquiring U.K.-based IT services provider Autonomy and announcing that it would spin off its PC-manufacturing Personal Systems Group (PSG). It later walked back that PSG decision, but not before the markets punished the company's stock.
Dell hasn't embarked on anything on the scale of HP's Autonomy acquisition, but the recent comments about tablets suggest the company is nonetheless trying to adapt with the times. And given how Android tablets have failed to break the iPad's majority hold on the tablet market, Windows 8 tablets may represent the best bet for manufacturers other than Apple to seize a bit more of that mobility dollar.