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I’m at Dell EMC World this week, and one of the most interesting demonstrations on stage involved a personal computer.
The former argument that PCs are dying and that tablets, specifically iPads, were going to take over the world turned out to be fake news. Every one of the top PC vendors is now showing growing revenues, and this keynote was partially about how PCs are not only not dying but have actually become strategic again.
The vendors on stage included Nike, which is using new Dell technology to design its products, and DAQRI, which is creating augmented reality (AR) glasses tied to Dell’s hardened PCs to address business needs.
Before moving on, I should add that Alienware is also here showcasing its latest products. These shows are typically focused on enterprise buyers and are about as far removed from gamers, Alienware's usual market, as you can get. However, people that are in IT during the day often game at night, and a surprising amount of development for a variety of industries is suddenly coming out of gaming. Virtual reality (VR) and AR have heavy gaming connections; emulation and modeling have a lot of deep gaming connections; and simulation, which is found in higher-end games, has become a critical part of design.
One of the interesting designer tools that Dell introduced this year was the combination of the Dell XPS 27 all-in-one and the Dell Canvas work surface. Since I saw these products used together for a demonstration of how Sony was using them to create the next Spiderman movie, I’ve had a chance to talk with a number of designers who are using both this tool and the equally new Surface Studio all-in-one from Microsoft.
The differences between the two offerings are interesting in that the Microsoft product is focused on design, size and power efficiency, while the Dell offerings are focused on performance and productivity. A manager, executive or someone on a tight budget would likely prefer the Microsoft offering, while an engineer, architect or graphic artist who had the budget would generally chase performance and productivity and prefer Dell’s solution. Ironically, these two solutions don’t really compete but complement each other.
The focus on stage was clearly on showing why performance is important. The example was a designer creating the next Nike track shoe. With its two screens, the Dell Canvas is basically a big touchscreen work surface. With a high-resolution pen and widget inputs connected to the XPS 27, she was able to both draw and see what she was working on real time without having to lift her hands to check progress. This seems like a little thing, but it allows for a far more fluid creation experience and vastly improves overall performance over an all-in-one or a digitizer, which fully decoupled the creation from visualization. You can draw heads down but glance up to get the entire picture, going instantly from micro to macro views. The folks I’ve spoken with absolutely love this process once they try it.
However, with this solution, you are still seeing the result on a 2D flat field.
DAQRI: Bringing in the third “D”
Immediately after the Nike presentation, DAQRI showed a tool that could take that 2D creation and render it in full 3D in the workspace. DAQRI makes AR glasses that actually look good and aren’t either huge or ugly. Granted, you aren’t going to wear these to the club, and they are tethered. But if you wanted to design a product and see it as it might result, AR provides the opportunity. While this wasn’t shown on stage, I expect the designer could at times grab a pair of DAQRI AR glasses and view their creation in AR as it would exist in the real world.
Now there are a lot of AR solutions for business in market, but most of them don't look great. It always seemed really strange to me that while it was clear that designers actually preferred hardware that was attractive and well designed, many of the AR solutions targeting them looked so terrible. The DAQRI product was one that a designer could be proud of and that would look good against this current generation of designer-oriented products.
So what is surprising isn’t that DAQRI created something that looks good, it’s that they are relatively unique. They are making it look like everyone else missed the meeting where they were told users prefer wearable stuff that makes them look good. (Given what I often see employees being asked to wear, I think the majority of managers missed this meeting).
Design Is Important
I think that one of the problems with the PC market is that, for a time, OEMs thought pricing trumped design. They forgot the power of design, particularly with artistic types that design things themselves. There is a pride people can take in their tools when they are attractive and well-designed. That feeling just doesn’t exist if the tools are optimized to be cheap and unattractive.
Dell EMC is demonstrating that they understand that design is important and that PC-based technology remains strategic to folks who actually have important work to do.
By the way, it was fascinating for me to see Pat Gelsinger, now CEO of VMware, come up on stage after this because he was the guy that, while at Intel, helped create the passion in that market in the 1990s. He was the guy that got me excited about the then-future of PCs. Excellent, though accidental, timing.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.