What the Hell is Happening at Dell (v2.0)?

Dell having some problems.

I made a post a couple days ago about the downright zany information leaks about an upcoming MID from Dell. Employee comments were all over the place, which made it hard to figure out if Dell has been blowing particles of mercury through their air ducts or if they’re just panicking over their slippery market share. There’s more news this week, which has me leaning toward the mercury theory. I’ll start with the least crazy of the two.

Yesterday Dell announced a new option for their popular Mini line of netbooks: the Wireless 700 card. The card adds $69 to the price and adds GPS capability to your handy little netbook. Alan Sicher, senior wireless product manager at Dell, had this to say:

Smartphones already have GPS capabilities. We are now bringing it to…

Okay, stop. Yes. Smartphones already have GPS. So why are you putting it on netbooks? More and more phones, smart or otherwise, are adding GPS capabilities every day, with increasingly robust feature lists. Sorry I interrupted.

We are now bringing it to netbooks so the devices know where you are and can help you where you want to go.

Alright, stop. I’m going to cannibalize an old photographer’s saying for the sake of argument here. The best GPS is the one you have with you. Why would I want to carry a netbook when my phone can do what you’re suggesting? Can you imagine walking around downtown with your netbook out? People would wonder if you’d found Zack Morris’ old smartphone.

With new features on netbooks I always ask one question – how will this affect battery life? Early estimates from Dell say you’ll see a 5% drop in overall battery life. That doesn’t sound like much, but where was it tested? Where satellite reception was crisp? One of the touted features is usability where your cell may be roaming or where satellite signals are weak. You can bet it will drain more power in that sort of rural environment. For a computer that reportedly sees between two and three hours battery life even 5% hurts.

The GPS will allow people to do things like geotagging or finding a nearby restaurant from a coffee shop, but again, other devices, like phones and cameras, can already do this. At the very best this is a stopgap, and may pick up a few customers who don’t want a smartphone until GPS software becomes standard on cellular devices. With the hardware already in place, that day is close at hand.

Remember when I said that was the least crazy of the Dell news. Brace yourself for some typographic hilarity.

Dell's $15 monitor.Dell’s Taiwan branch recently listed a 19-inch monitor, which normally runs for $150, for just $15, and it stayed that way for 8 hours. Over the course of those 8 hours, the company sold 140,000 units. The snafu isn’t all that uncommon, but the Taiwanese government is demanding Dell honor all 140,000 honors in compliance with fair trade laws (I’m not real sure how that one works).

Dell apologized and said it would compensate buyers for the mistake, which probably means no $15 dollar monitors. Was it a smaller order count, you might have seen them honor those prices, but it’s not likely at 140,000. The number does beg the question, though, how did they not catch this? Seems like there should be some sort of inventory control in place that reminds you that you’re selling in the red when you set that price. You kinda feel for the company, but then again they didn’t catch the thing until 140,000 units were placed. That’s more internal problems than just a typo.

Michael Dell really needs to tighten the reins, especially where product announcements are concerned. Sicher’s press comments are practically a sales pitch against netbook gps and the buzz around the MID sounds like the crazies are running the nuthouse.

I hate to sound alarmist, because it’s not like Dell is imploding. They are clearly struggling, though, and not handling it well in public. It’s like the couple you see at the bar every weekend yelling at each other over dinner. They’ll probably work it out, but it’s hard to look at them when they’re finally smiling and not remember all the times they sacrificed one another’s dignity over a Cobb salad.


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