Dell Could Take Hint from Apples Style

Opinion: While Dell's CEO dismisses the iPod as "a fad" and the Mac mini as insignificant, he would be wise to learn from Apple's strength in innovative design and apply it to Dell's PCs.

Theres an interesting story on our ExtremeiPod site in which Dell CEO Kevin Rollins calls Apples music box "a fad."

In another story there, the head of Creative calls the iPod shuffle "a big letdown," accusing Apple of rehashing "a four-year-old product ... worse than the cheapest Chinese player."

Why are these two competitors going out of their way to trash Apple? Do they think customers will read their comments and decide to buy their companies products instead of Apples? Or might the same customers decide that if the competition seems so frightened that Apples stuff must really be great?

I come down in the middle: The iPod Shuffle deserves trashing, and yes, the iPod itself is a fad. Today its a fad thats really fattening Apples coffers, but it took three years to accomplish that—and it wont last forever.

Dells Rollins compared the iPod to the Sony Walkman, the iPods predecessor as the must-have personal audio device. But todays rage is tomorrows commodity, and Rollins points out the obvious: "You dont hear about the Walkman anymore."

In the interview, Rollins praised Apple for doing a "nice job" with the iPod, but he dismissed Apple generally and the Mac mini specifically as too insignificant to make any real difference in the marketplace.

(Note to reader KR: The Mac mini is the first computer Ive actually been excited about buying in years. And I already own two Dells.)

Perhaps not directly, but Apples innovations have a way of winding up in other companies products, particularly in Microsofts. Dell is a company that, while hugely successful, could take some lessons from Cupertino.

/zimages/5/28571.gifDo Apples new products make the grade? Click here for a column.

What Michael Dell has called his companys "delightful consistency" translates into products that are typically very nice but never really break new ground. Customers have rewarded that, but Dell could be doing a lot more to improve the industrial design of its computers and peripherals. Alas, even when the company does try, as in its PDAs and MP3 players, the results are usually more consistent than delightful.

But imagine how many computers Dell could sell if only it could create a machine that customers were really excited about buying. Apple does this almost routinely. Why cant Dell?

I am not suggesting that Dell should mimic Apple, where design sometimes trumps technology to the products detriment. But I do wish Dell would offer products a little less traditional than its current line. Of course, these "alternate" PC designs never seem to catch on—unless they have an Apple nameplate, that is. But if any company can change this, Dell should be the one.

Sure, Rollins is right when he says Apple isnt a big player. Given a choice between owning the whole company, Dell or Apple, which would you choose?

From a financial standpoint, the choice is obvious. But Apples continued existence is proof that design does mean something and that customers will pay a premium for that sort of excellence. And the pursuit of excellence is its own reward.

Instead of dismissing Apples PC hardware, Dells Rollins should take a close look and see what his company is missing.

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