Dellbent On Device-like Boxen

Well, that was quick.  One day after Michael Dell took back the decimated company that bears his name, he’s announced his new strategy.

Dell (the man and the company) will compete for the tablet segment, but will not try a smartphone.  If you’re familiar with the strategy of Dell (the company), this makes perfect sense.

The strategy and appeal of Dells has been commoditization and domination.  As a large entity, they can produce quantities and purchase components that smaller entities just can’t swing.  Between low supplier prices and low internal overheads, Dells simply cost less than the competition… so long as the Dell and the competition are common, everyday designs that can be assembled from common, everyday components.  This was the case for desktop PCs (especially “beige boxes”), and to a lesser extent “regular” laptops.  This business model breaks down with slimmer and slimmer laptops, and non-beige, non-box devices (such as any phone that’s competitive nowadays).  Tablets?  Not too far off.

The resulting Dell product lines will basically become servers and tablets.  A server is a box, just with stronger, un-user-friendly guts inside, and often rackmounts outside.  Meanwhile, a tablet is like a consumer box, just squished, and with no peripherals hanging off (often).  In other words, still Dell fodder.  Any engineer worth their wiring can detail a squished box; the purchasing managers can then spec it out with whatever parts do the job at a great bulk price.

In other words, a tablet these days doesn’t need much in the way of (mechanical) systems engineering.  The beancounters have leeway to alter elements on economic grounds, without actually altering the final user experience.  Not so with phones.  To stay small, smartphones need a well-designed SOC (system-on-a-chip).  The “guts” of the phone are now only one or two chip packages.  Miscellaneous components are crammed onto a motherboard, which is itself crammed in any space left around the battery and screen.  One change to the camera, vibe motor, or even SOC package might force a redesign of the motherboard, and you might as well be designing a whole new device.  Thus, smartphones aren’t in Dell’s DNA, but a reasonable tablet should be.  Dell can then stay relevant, without learning much in the way of new tricks.

Speaking of relevant, why is this on my blog?  Follow me here: what’s a lightweight, electrically-powered box, with some glass?  A first stab at an electric car, that’s what.  Just ask Ford, Honda, maybe Fiat.

The beauty of vehicle electrification is that, at least on paper, many challenges of systems engineering ease off.  A piston engine needs a transmission, which strongly implies your drivetrain layout.  With EVs, it looks, at least at first, like you can put the battery anywhere.  Cables can snake to power units and controllers wherever it’s convenient to mount them; only the electric motor itself needs to be at an axle.  Hence, the Ford Focus EV and Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid look like their gasser kin, but with a pack and plug.

And yet, there’s more to it than that.  That line of thinking will get you a cheap box, not a smart phone.  If you actually do your systems engineering, you design a vehicle around the electricity, not the electricity into some vehicle.  That’s why the Ford Focus EV and Honda Accord PHEV are fairly lame… and the Tesla Model S is $70,000.  Meanwhile, the Tesla Roadster started with the existing Lotus Elise body, and is nowhere near as impressive.  But it was a lot less work, and got the company started.

Multiple auto execs have stated that the electrification of the car (including hybridization as one step) is inevitable.  Too bad so few are thinking outside the box, and just want to stay relevant by churning out easy (per the systems engineers) boxes.


2 thoughts on “Dellbent On Device-like Boxen

  1. Pingback: “Waaah Waaah Waaastronauts” | cableflux

  2. Pingback: Leaving the Blind Cyclops | cableflux

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