Smartphone Denial

A few years ago, I wrote a post for Austin Startup in a weekly column I was doing called mobileTech Tuesdays.

The post was entitled “This Is Not A Smartphone And I Don’t Care” in which I reviewed my impressions of the first and only DellWorld I’ve attended, in 2011.

IMG_1689In the post, I used the photo of the giant, ruggedized structure you see in the picture, which dominated the exhibit floor, as visual proof of Dell’s abandonment of the consumer business.

Going “all in” on enterprise wasn’t a bad idea, so I wasn’t indicting the strategy. But, it irked me that the company was still trying to have it both ways, by continuing to spit out half-ass consumer products.

Even though I had supported the “home team” for many years, by buying Wintel PCs from Dell, I’d finally had enough a year later. I documented my frustrations with my Inspiron XP in a post entitled “I’m Done with Dell” in September 2012.

That didn’t necessarily mean I was done with Dell entirely. As far as I was concerned, Dell for the enterprise was the only viable option, having served as a Chief Information Officer (CIO) and a consultant to CIOs for a number of years, earlier in my career.

So, about a year later, I was intrigued when Dell introduced a product called the Cloud Connect in late 2013. I got on the beta program list and received my copy of the product.

This is a good example of when a product sounds good in theory, but unravels in practice for all but the most niche use-cases.

cloud3The idea was to provide a portable pocket- or purse-sized computer in a memory stick form factor. In this case, an HDMI connector, rather than USB.

Interestingly, the product reminded me of an identical idea, introduced a decade earlier in 2003 by a company called Seaside, that had a Microsoft Exchange dedicated PC-on-a-USB called the xKey.

This was a time well before mass-market smartphones, back when pagers and the first pager-sized Blackberrys (we called them “Crackberrys” because they were so addictive, even then!) were the norm.

So, the idea of carrying a secure, battery-less PC in your pocket, seemed to make more sense. But, today, as the battle rages between iPhones and high-function/low-cost smartphone makers out of Asia, like Xiaomi, the Cloud Connect makes much less sense.

Because, while they would like you to think all you need is this, plus a monitor (preferably a Wyse)…

cloud4

What you really need is this…

cloud2

So much for portability!

And, while anyone 3-year old can use an iPhone or an iPad (product docs on top), I felt like I was returning to mainframe configuration class, when I slogged through the Cloud Connect docs (on bottom).

IMG_8588

In fact, I had to laugh when, just like back in the days of IBM 360/370 Assembler manuals I had in college and my early days of Accenture, the Cloud Connect docs included the legendary “This page intentionally blank” apology.

A much smarter solution, in my humble opinion, would have been for Dell to focus on partnering with (or buying) an MDM software maker and then creating a flawless smartphone & mobile device management experience across its servers, network devices, and now vast array of storage, with EMC.

cloud1Because, at the end of the day, the Cloud Connect isn’t that much smaller than my iPhone 5s, which fits nicely in my pocket with room to spare.

My guess is that the product serves some particular US federal or state agency niche or one for foreign governments or NGOs requiring some extreme form of physical and digital security.

If not, then it demonstrates how far a company will go when it makes a strategic decision to avoid the consumer tech products business, even if it essentially means denying the ubiquity of smartphones & tablets, by instead recreating a smart version of mainframe computer networks, 50 years after they were the only show in town.

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