August 13, 2008

Dell Announces New Laptops For Mobile Workers

Computer maker Dell Inc. predicts that the needs of so-called digital nomads will drive sales of laptops to over one billion within the next five years. 

The company's forecast coincided with its unveiling of a new line of Latitude and Precision laptop computers, including a few ultra-portable designs for business travelers who require high performance yet prefer not to carry a heavy computer while traveling. 

"Since 1995, we've shipped more business laptops worldwide than anyone," company chairman and CEO Michael Dell said in a statement.

"This, and our 5 million-plus conversations a day with customers, gives us real insight into the needs of the digital nomad."

"There is no business as usual in the connected era," Andy Lark, Dell's vice president of global marketing, told BBC News.

"Boundaries for businesses are virtual. This is a new class of worker who maybe doesn't have an office and who maybe visits 10 offices in a day and visits several different customers."

Mr. Lark said the number of digital nomads are on the rise, as were expectations about the capabilities their laptops and notebooks should deliver.

"The majority of people coming online and buying their first computer today are doing it in emerging countries like China, India and Brazil.

"If you look at India, about 67% or more of their workforce is going to be entirely mobile and that is driving the demand for new features in the laptop like all day connectivity, long battery life, high-level security and uncompromising design and durability."

Jeff Clarke, senior vice president of Dell's business group, unveiled the seven Latitude business laptops and three Dell Precision workstation laptops during a press launch in San Francisco, describing them as "performance leaders and something the tech community will absolutely die for."

The computers have just under 10 hours of battery life, which can be extended with a "battery slice" to provide up to 19 hours.

Mr. Clarke said the company spent more than two years and one million man hours designing the new Latitude line, which cost between $800 to $1,400.  The company also sought input from more than 4,000 customers to determine what they most valued in their laptop. Security and battery life were among the priorities.

"With 17,000 notebooks being lost, left unattended or reported missing at airports around the world, many with important information on them, our customers asked for the notion of a vault to secure their information," Clarke told reporters.

Dell said it had accomplished that goal by providing users the ability to track down or disable a stolen laptop. Additional security features include a fingerprint reader and a "control vault" processor that store an owner's identity and credentials on protected hardware.

Dell is hoping its new lines will provide "freedom from business as usual", and will translate into captured market share  from competitors such as Apple Inc. and HP.

"We have defined mobility for the business computer. We are at that forefront of being different."

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, told BBC News Dell had made a product tailored for the modern workforce.

"I think what it comes down to is that for most of those customers, highly mobile, highly robust and highly secure systems are critical for large organizations' ease of management and administration.

"I think what Dell has done here is really very much focused on meeting the needs and wishes of this different class," he said.

However, others are not quite sold.

"I am not sure this is going to do it for Dell. The differentiation in this space is based on the tiniest of differences. Still it gives Apple, HP, Toshiba and Lenovo a target to strike at,"  VentureBeat.com's Dean Takahashi told BBC News.


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