Is Dell cool enough for consumers?

Not content with dominance of the PC markets (in the US at least) Dell has turned its sights on the home electronics market.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  September 27, 2003

Not content with dominance of the PC markets (in the US at least) Dell has turned its sights on the home electronics market.

The company has confirmed the launch of a range of consumer products-an LCD TV, digital music player, wireless handheld and digital projectors-that will be available to buyers in the US before the end of the year, ready for the holiday buying period.

While there are no firm plans for these products for the Middle East, at least none that Dell is making public just yet, the move would certainly seem to make perfect sense for the US market. Dell is not an enterprise player in the way that say, IBM is, but it does have a fantastic brand, a proven record at the corporate desktop level and a very powerful retail channel with Dell.com.

There is immense synergy between the PC market and the home electronics market. For the uninitiated consumer, buying a digital music player from Dell gives them the peace of mind that they are buying from a reputable brand and that whatever they buy will be compatible with their existing PC hardware.

The one possible query I have with the strategy is whether Dell is, quite frankly, 'cool' enough for consumer electronics. A look at the initial product line raises a few doubts-projectors, handhelds and LCD TVs-it is almost as if Dell has asked 'what products have we got in the warehouse that we can brand as 'consumer electronics' and push to home buyers?'

There is nothing in this line-up that suggests the innovation of Apple's iPod, for example. It is all well and good to go with proven product lines, but you have to ask not only if there is a market for projectors and consumer handhelds just yet, but whether you can get the home buyer excited about these products. The consumer market is not just about brand, it is about creating demand, creating a buzz around the products, and bringing something new to the market-the 'I want one' factor. With no strong roots in the Far East, I don't know if dependable Dell has the spirit of innovation and consumer 'cool' to make its line really stand out.

Of course, probably none of this matters at all to Michael Dell. The solid brand and reputation of Dell will guarantee it sales regardless-just like nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, no-one ever got nagged by the wife and kids for buying Dell (probably). Dell will sign some massive OEM deals, sell bucketloads of PDAs and digital music players though Dell.com and probably make more revenue doing it than many other multinationals could make from their whole business. But for a company that pioneered e-commerce, it would be great to see Dell bringing some innovation to its consumer electronics, not just playing safe.

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