Based on recent interviews with Dell, sources close to Dell, and the decreasing PC market, there's a fairly good body of evidence to suggest that Dell will be releasing a smartphone in the very near future. While some might mock this attempt while remembering the unsuccessful Dell mp3 players, I think the device could have a shot. Here are the questions Dell should be answering, and the answers they should be given, to give this new smartphone the best chance at success.
Should Dell target the enterprise or consumer market? The Dell smartphone will need to be targeted to the enterprise—not a mostly enterprise device with the potential to work for consumers. Focus fully on what you're best at, and drive that home. Even just a few nods to the consumer market would be a mistake, and besides, there's already a host of super-popular phones (with the iPhone leading the charge) targeted to consumers, and the odds of making any headway in that segment are slim to none.
Rather than take a bite out of the recent smartphones to emerge, Dell will need to create a smartphone that's practical, capable, and integrates well with enterprise hardware. Fortunately for Dell, many enterprises already use Dell's desktops, laptops, and servers—ignoring this opportunity would be a huge mistake.
Should it run on Windows Mobile, Android, or Dell's own OS? It's got to be Windows Mobile. First off, it's the most trusted mobile OS in the enterprise space, and this will grant the phone some nice advantages (such as seamless Exchange integration) that most current smartphones don't have. People have mixed feelings about Android right now, and those who are interested are mostly consumers who believe in the OS because they follow the open-source ideology—something that doesn't have any bearing to business decisions. (Besides, picking Android would cause irreparable damage to the Microsoft/Dell relationship, and Dell needs all the friends it can get.) For Dell to create its own OS is off the table by now, I'm sure, but it would be a lot of work for not a lot of benefit.
Can it compete with the BlackBerry Storm and Palm Pre? Here's the big question—will Dell's smartphone be able to beat out the BlackBerry Storm and upcoming Palm Pre? These will be Dell's primary smartphone competitors. We already know that the Storm is nothing to write home about, though it is faring decently in overall sales. As for the Pre, I've yet to hear anything but positive reviews, so Dell should be thinking about how it can one-up Palm's latest and greatest. One way may be with releasing its phone faster than Palm.
It's still a long shot, but if Dell crafts a smartphone that is not to sleek, but not too ugly, and captures the enterprise with technical merit, seamless integration, and familiar technologies, this late-to-the-party smartphone could turn things around for Dell. Many sources cite a mid-February release date, as this would coincide with the GSMA Mobile World Conference.
Personally, I wish Dell the best of luck with this new venture. Competition not only breeds excitement—it breeds innovation. And so far, we're still looking for a smartphone champion for the enterprise market. Could this be it?