Dell Smartphones? A Welcoming Channel Awaits

By Charlene O'Hanlon  |  Print this article Print

Smartphones and their supporting business infrastructure are the surprise channel hit of 2009. Dell's possible entry into the smartphone market has solution providers buzzing with anticipation.

The rumor mill is spinning on speculation that Dell will introduce a smartphone this month, but solution providers are taking a decidedly more subdued stance on the possibility.

"I just heard about it last week," said Ray Paganini, CIO of Cornerstone IT in Cleveland. "My first question would be whether it runs Microsoft Mobile. But [either way] we’d certainly look at it – it wouldn’t hurt."

"It’s an interesting thought. I’d like to see more competition that’s viable in the smartphone space," said Pat McKay, owner of Keystone IT, Iowa City, Iowa. "It would be nice if I could sell a smartphone through a channel that I already have."

Rumors bolstered by comments by analysts are fueling speculation that Dell is planning to unveil a smartphone at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona later this month. If the rumors prove true, Dell would be following Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry Storm, Google’s G1 and the recently unveiled Palm Pre to the high-capability smartphone market.

If Dell does enter the smartphone market, it couldn’t come at a better time. According to the Channel Insider 2009 Market Pulse report, smartphones and PDA were ranked by solution providers as the technology considered most exciting by their customers.

Dell has made inroads with consumers in the past year with its new line of sleek and extremely lightweight computers and in some respects seems to be following in the footsteps of Apple in terms of form and function. But one only needs to think back a few years to Dell’s first foray into the handheld arena with its ill-fated Axim PDA. It also introduced an MP3 player, the Dell DJ, which was quickly pounded by the iPod. Those devices were aimed at the consumer space. And while the argument could be made that a smartphone is a consumer device, it is also decidedly a business device, as mobility becomes even more important in the work force.

"Dell has a credibility problem because it had the Axim and discontinued it," said MJ Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group, Portsmouth, N.H. "If you look at any manufacturer, when they enter a space and then pull out, people get skeptical.

"That said, Dell has a good, solid reputation and a good support infrastructure behind them. If they can deliver that to a smartphone, no reason to believe they wouldn’t be successful," Shoer said.

Proof is also in the sales: Research firm Gartner reported worldwide smartphone sales hit 32.3 million units in the second quarter of 2008, up 15.7 percent over the second quarter of 2007.

"As far as the business goes, smartphones are hot," Shoer said. It doesn’t matter what [platform] you’re talking about. I would say the smartphone market is likely to stay hot and, if anything, is getting hotter. A number of applications are being written specifically for smartphones, and as more business apps are written, you’ll definitely see the market take off."

Dell did not answer requests for an interview.  
Brian Okun, director of sales at Prevalent Networks, Bedminster, N.J., said while smartphones are becoming ubiquitous in the end user space, they are introducing a new level of integration complexity.

"We are seeing a much greater need to integrate these devices, especially iPhones, into the corporate infrastructure," Okun said. "[Research In Motion] has always done well in this regard, so there are additional complexities introduced with the iPhone [that were not with the BlackBerry]."


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