Dell Steps Up Personal Choice
Dell has always been known for build to order products. But generally the products looked the same, it was just some of the components that could be traded out. This month that changed with the introduction of Dell Design Studio. This is an offering that for an charge of $75 can externally customize a laptop with an initial 100 choices of signed artwork, providing a higher level of customization than has ever been provided outside of true custom PC gaming shops.
People are unique and while there are those that like to have others make their clothing choices for them or have to wear uniforms, most of us adults, and children, like to have clothing, cars, furniture, and homes that reflect our uniqueness. Apple used to have the tag line Think Different but if youve ever seen a room full of Apple users with their laptops open they look like Stepford Wives in that there is very little distinction between them as they sit behind their little glowing Apple logos.
This has always seemed strange to me, that a company that seems so focused on people being allowed to make a choice between Windows and the MacOS is not focused on allowing people to make more choices between products. Its multi-colored iPod Nanos and Shuffles are more a representation of broad practices than isolated instances of individuality.
So it is fascinating that Dell has moved to provide a level of design customization that appears to be beyond Apples capabilities. This, during a time when both vendors will be under heavy economic pressure to bring out increasingly less expensive offerings in response to decreasing buyer income while still providing unique value to their buyers.
Life is often about choice and whether it is a line manager trying to make choices to contain operating costs and prevent (or at least offset) potential layoffs, or individuals choosing products that uniquely reflect them, it is these choices that define most markets.
It is interesting that in these two cases, Apple was lucky to be in the right place to benefit from choices they were accidently creating, while Dell was actively creating choices to differentiate their offerings in the market. Of the two, the first may actually have a bigger market impact but it implies, over time, that the second may eventually move broadly into corporations. And the decision with regard to which PC to buy moves closer and closer to the person that will use it.
What if we ask, so far who is beating whom? That will remain to be seen as the economic conditions rapidly changing the PC market in powerful ways that wont become evident for several months yet. Apple suddenly appears priced out of the market at the moment and Dell has moved aggressively on Netbooks, at least suggesting Dell may be better positioned, at least initially, for the market downturn.
In the end, however, choice is good no matter how you get there and the trend is toward more of it. Regardless of who is providing that, choice means more of the variety the tech market (and folks like me) thrives on. And that has to be a good thing.