Dell, a relative newcomer to the exploding smartphone market, will be replacing employees' Research In Motion BlackBerry handsets with new Dell smartphones. Just as Microsoft's Bill and Melinda Gates don't let Apple products cross their doorstep, Dell is looking to keep RIM out of its workplace.
Dell plans to transition its 25,000 employees from BlackBerry devices to its new line of smartphones, and to begin marketing a service to help other businesses do the same, a Dell spokesperson confirmed to eWEEK.com.
A latecomer to the smartphone market, Dell currently offers the Android-running Aero, as well as the 5-inch, Android-running Streak-which it considers a tablet-but during the coming holiday season will launch the Windows 7-running Venue Pro, which it will offer to employees in exchange for the RIM handsets.
According to the Wall Street Journal, employees who currently carry BlackBerry handsets can receive a Venue Pro with voice and data plans; other employees will also receive Dell phones, but without data plans, and will instead rely on WiFi to check e-mail.
Dell began working on the plans several months ago, after employees increasingly began asking for high-end devices and the company considered how to accommodate them cost-efficiently. In making the move, which would additionally eliminate the need for RIM's BlackBerry servers-which go hand-in-hand, as it were, with the smartphones-Dell, which also has a strong server business, expects to save 25 percent in mobile communications costs, the Journal reported. Dell has reportedly also been in talks with Microsoft-which likewise would be thrilled to see fleets of enterprise workers switch from BlackBerry OS to Windows 7-as well as T-Mobile, which may offer bulk, businesswide minutes, instead of individual employee plans.
"Clearly in this decision we are competing with RIM, because we're kicking them out," Dell CFO Brian Gladden told the Journal.
Over the last few years, RIM has worked to compete with companies such Apple and Android handset makers for consumer affections. But with its fast push e-mail and trusted security, its bread and butter has long been the enterprise market. Increasingly, however, Apple and the like are making in-roads into the enterprise, as smartphone users blur the line between their home and work lives.
Mark Guibert, RIM's senior vice president of corporate marketing, said he doesn't see the Dell move as a threat, and further doubts Dell can offer businesses much of a savings.
"We find it highly unlikely that they will actually save any money with this move, and far more likely they were looking for a little free publicity," Guibert told eWEEK. "Consider all the hard and soft costs of purchasing, deploying and supporting new devices with new software inside a company. Plus, consider the fact that BlackBerry smartphones are far more efficient with respect to data usage, which means that their monthly service charges will also likely increase."
Additionally, Guibert added, "anyone concerned about software costs can download BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express for free. In fact, in addition to supporting Microsoft Exchange, RIM is introducing a version for IBM Lotus Domino customers on Friday."
From an enterprise services perspective, having Microsoft on its side bodes well for Dell, said analyst Roger Kay, with Endpoint Technologies. They will be "'dog-fooding' it, as they unfortunately call it in the industry," said Kay, of the process of using one's own product. "I'm sure Dell's CIO will be standing up in conferences talking about how well it works for them."
However, he adds, RIM's secure back end is its particular strength-as was recently highlighted in the news when governments in the Middle East expressed frustration over their inability to intercept e-mail messages.
"My iPhone, for example, just talks to an e-mail server," Kay told eWEEK, adding that Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is considered a "hybrid," in that it's built to appeal to both consumers and enterprise users.
"The consumer angle makes it less of a no-nonsense device than the BlackBerry is," he said. When it comes to security, "RIM has the high ground there."