How Dell can survive and truly compete

I had a truly inspiring conversation with Jake and Dave yesterday. We went to lunch then coffee.

The topic turned to Apple of course, the Apple tax, and what it means, and Dell.

We all agreed that we pay more, but where Dell and HP, and windowz peeps use the term in a negative, we see it as paying for a more awesome product, that is the sum of it’s parts not the parts. The whole spec comparison has been done to death. Apple gear isn’t RAM, HDD, glossy screen, etc. It’s the whole package, the OS, the industrial design, the hardware, and the overall feeling of owning something that retains value, isn’t plastic, and does what you want.

We got to talking about Dell (not sure why we focused on Dell, we probably all owned a few so they’re familiar)

We agreed, Dell (from now on, when I say “Dell” it means all PC makers) was competing with apple on product, not narrative. Slapping leather on a laptop, does not a MacBook Pro killer make. Adding replaceable colored skins, ditto.

What we all agreed is that the issue isn’t competing on hardware, it’s competing on the package. It’s a plastic crappy flimsy laptop running Windows. Sure Dell has tried to go Linux before, but the mistake they made was in choosing an off the shelf Linux distro. Maybe they wrote a few drivers for their hardware (I surely hope so) but that was it.

Wrong approach.

It’s amazing how many Apple product-killers fail to deliver because they fail to see the package, and try to kill the gear.

Mac’s run *nix. I know that, Dave and Jake know that. My mom doesn’t. Nicole doesn’t or doesn’t care. Hell I don’t care.

Where Apple went right, and Dell wrong, they took BSD, and made it user friendly. The average user never opens console, NEVER NEVER has to compile a driver from source, etc.

Throwing Ubuntu on a Dell laptop… isn’t the same as throwing OS X on a Mac laptop. Dell missed the mark, but not by much.

What should Dell do? abandon Windows, devote time and money to taking Ubuntu or something else, and making it theirs. Yes it’ll cost a metric buttload of money, and time. Dell will have to stand by their convictions, and help show why choosing their OS is a good idea for their customers. OS X had Classic mode, it shouldn’t be hard for Dell to offer a mode that will run Office. Apple didn’t offer iWork for a long time. Apple owners had to use Mac Office. M$ isn’t stupid, they’ll be mad, but then they’ll make an Office version for Dell OS. Or Dell writes one. Shit, Pages isn’t Word, but it’s got what most people need out of a word processor. The rest of Word is crazy one off fluff, that bloats the app and adds value to 1% or less of the install base. (guessing)

When I say Dell has to stand by their plan, that means after 6 months or a year, they can’t scrap the idea, run back to Microsoft, and make nice. It’s gonna take time. They need to spend that time doing 2 things.

  1. Sell the hell out of Dell OS. It’s an uphill battle, but NO ONE likes windows. Given an alternative that did what Windows does (not the shit no one cares about, the important things), wasn’t bloated, wasn’t full of crapware, etc. People would choose that alternative. BUT it must be stable, it must not need the user to know that the console exists, and it must be supported. It’ll need drivers, it’ll need the regular apps, it’ll need a way to run old windows shit. It’ll need a wizard to help convert people from windows to Dell OS. it’ll need the same experience Mac converts get.
  2. Improve the Dell OS. Show that it’s not a one off. within 6 months, release an update that’s more than a bug fix. Throw in a few new features. Add some Sizzle, but add a bite or two of steak too. Showing your fledgling user base that you’re committed will do wonders. They’ll know you’re in the game to win, and not “Testing the waters”, and they’ll become the cult of Dell.

That’s it. That’s the secret sauce Dell is not seeing. That’s the trees in the forest. It’s not a better laptop with better specs. it’s not leather or wood. It’s not Aluminum unibody, it’s the narrative, and the experience. Windows will forever taint both, and Dell will never compete.

So that’s it. That’s the secret, that so many get (Apple owners) that so few get (PC makers, M$, Etc) that would make PC makers competitive.

Apple didn’t get to $50bil over night, you can take your 8% share and bank on that, Apple is banking with Money. (Please leave the “iPod is supporting it” out. Yes the iPod is the huge money maker, and uh, hello the iPod follows the same model. Dell DJ? what? what’s that? exactly)

That was our coffee talk :) I might have missed a thing or two or glossed over but that was the gist.

7 thoughts on “How Dell can survive and truly compete

  1. Jude

    I don’t think Windows is the problem. Just from looking at the numbers: Windows still holds ~90% market share. Apple ~5%. And it took, what, a couple months for Win7 market share to surpass any version of OSX? I believe it’s actually surpassed all versions of OSX combined by now (I’d have to double check that).

    Looking at Dell, specifically, I know they were at around 20% in 2008, and fell to around 15% in 2009 (I haven’t looked at the most recent numbers, but I know that the release of Win7 boosted their sales quite a bit, and still climbing).

    With Dell selling 3-4 times more computers than Apple, you think Dell needs to follow Apple’s strategy? What would be the purpose of that? So they can drop their market share from 15-20% down to ~5%?

    On another note, I know that Mac users believe they’re paying more money for a better computer (as you’ve stated). The problem with that statement is that its very subjective and opinionated. What is not subjective, however, is the fact that you’re paying more for having no competition in that platform. Just something to think about.

    1. John Wilker Post author

      I think you're mistaking Windows ubiquity with popularity and consumer choice. Same with Enterprise.

      Yes and no on the subjectivity. Competition on the platform, yes. Competition, no. To date I've still owned fare more PCs than Macs. I changed platforms because i believe the offering is better. I wish Apple products didn't cost more, we'd see ~5% go up quite a bit. It sucks when the barrier to entry is price.

      Whats not subjective is that a mac laptop will 1. retain value longer, and 2. (maybe a bit subjective if you're an apologist) hold up better physically. I've owned many a PC laptop and none have ever lasted as long in the same condition. I've replaced HDDs, Fans, batteries, etc and then sold on Ebay for a fraction the cost.

      I've known plenty of people who've squeezed years and years out of the same laptop, there's exceptions to every rule, but in my not limited experience it's the exception.

      Sorry there's nothing to think about. having spent years on each platform, alternating even, I think I'm objective enough to see where PCs fall flat.

      Obviously PC v. Mac is a "We'll have to agree to disagree"

  2. Jude

    How many of those PC laptops that you’ve owned costed as much as the mac laptops that you’ve owned? No one will argue that a $1500 macbook would stand up better than a $600 Inspiron over time. I just want to make sure we’re comparing apples to apples here.

    I’ve stuck to Dell’s line of Precision Mobile laptops (only because a macbook can’t be configured to handle graphic intensity of the 3D Animation/CAD software I use as well as I need it to) and being in the same price range as Apple’s line, I can assure you they would all stand up to a mac in terms of quality while going well beyond the specifications that can be configured on mac laptop. Now that’s more of a fair comparison.

    The point is, you get what you pay for. Apple doesn’t have a cheap budget line, so you’re guaranteed that you get a very high quality laptop regardless. You can’t compare that mac to just any random PC.

    PC manufacturers tend to have multiple lines targeting different quality and budget markets. So, PCs holding up as well as macs is not an “expection to the rule” as you’ve stated, rather, it’s the very reality when doing a fair comparison.

    Of course, PCs break down and suffer from wear & tear more than macs overall. But don’t forget to put things in perpective. 5% of PCs breakdowns amount to a hell of a lot more total than 5% of mac breakowns. The perception would be that PCs are of lower quality, when technically, that isn’t so.

    1. John Wilker Post author

      you assume I'd buy a cheap Dell. My Dell laptops were at least on par with my Mac purchases, for their time.

      I'd argue that "Technically that isn't so" is a false statement. Numbers wise, sure it's higher for PCs and that's fine. I can speak from personal experience, both in my own home and my extended family and friends. Anecdotal, yes.

      Build quality is build quality. Plastic is plastic.

  3. Tom Gonzalez

    FWIW, when I was pricing out dual quad core desktops Apples price on the hardware actually ended up being 5% cheaper than a similarly configured Dell. And you can bet that the inside of the dell box was not precision milled billet aluminum.

    1. John Wilker Post author

      I've seen time and again, that when you compare exact specs, that the price difference is nil or reversed.

      It's easy as Jude points out for people to take a $600 Dell and compare it to even a Macbook, and cry "Apple Tax"

  4. Brendan George

    Truly? You think that simply abandoning Windows will make Dell compete better? You do know there are some people who only buy Dell computers BECAUSE they are Windows computers, correct? Besides, if someone wants Linux on their computer, all they have to do is put it on their computer themselves…

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