Before Dell’s growth exploded in the late 90s, early 00s, owning one of their computers seemed liked a pretty cool thing to do. You order directly through the company, they made the PC you always wanted. That’s just how they work: they buy the parts and put the thing together and ship it to you. As the number of Dell owners increased though, their customer service couldn’t keep up and neither could their margins as other PC makers began to make cheaper PCs and minimize their component costs. Despite the shifting winds toward mobile and tablets, at least on the consumer end, Dell kept doing the same ol’ thing, though. The same thing. Over and over. Now founder Michael Dell is trying to bring the company private, away from the demanding votes of shareholders who demand quarter-after-quarter perfection.
It’s probably too late, though.
Believe it or not, most of Dell’s business comes from, well, businesses. Their consumer-facing ads and technology have always been a small portion of their pie. But Dell is trying to win a losing game: they’re trying to make cheaper boxes than everyone else, chasing this by supplying the government, hospitals, and call centers with thousands of new PCs and monitors. If they never sold another computer to place in someone’s home, it’d be disappointing, but not a soul-crushing blow.
But think about all the technologies that Dell has bypassed in the past five to ten years – and not just Dell, but HP and other major manufacturers as well – those being post-PC devices. In the early aughts, I considered replacing my tank-of-a-thing HP PocketPC with a Dell Axim, which had some pretty incredible specs at the time, including a 300MHz processor. But Dell gave that up. And Dell entered MP3 players after Apple did. But Dell gave that up. And they tried tablets with the Android-powered Streak. They gave that up. Smartphones, what about Windows Phone? Gave up. Android? Never tried.
Dell has painted themselves into a corner and appear to be making no great strides to try and change their position. Oh, sure, Dell can probably get a few banks to fall on his side and finance a buy-back of his company, but what are they really going to accomplish outside of their own self-limiting obsolescence? Not anything futuristic, that’s for sure.