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GBM Interview: Dell’s Brett McAnally Talks Tablet



In this interview with Brett McAnally, Dell’s Director of Business Notebooks, we talk about the launch of the Latitude XT Tablet PC, choosing N-Trig as its digitizing partner, the potential for an Inspiron / Vostro type of Tablet, and more. Enjoy!

Brett, thank you for the opportunity to talk about Dell’s Latitude XT. It has been four months since the release of the Latitude XT. How has the response been in your target market?

We’re really pleased with the response so far.  Thankfully, the feedback has confirmed what we expected, that usability is really valued, whether it be in the form of small size/weight, bright panels and multiple input options- especially touch. We’re getting great tips on what is good and what needs work for next time — it’s a learning process and there’s lots to do as we want to improve, but at least we’re hearing that we’re off to a good start.

Talk to me about your usability research in designing the XT. What were customers telling your team about the features they wanted in a Tablet PC? What data were you seeing that led Dell to go in the direction that we now see in the XT?

We always involve customer feedback and research in the development of our products, but the creation of the XT was the most collaborative process I’ve been involved with. We spent almost two years developing the concept and bringing the tablet to market, and during that time had the opportunity to run concepts by existing Dell customers, companies who were tablet buyers but not Dell customers, plus the usual focus group studies. I’d also point out that we had the pleasure of collaborating with key industry partners such as Microsoft, who provided great input on matching hardware capabilities with Vista tablet capabilities, especially with regards to touch.

So lots of great input from many sources (especially customers) on what was required, and we had very clear direction that size and weight was most important, followed closely by ease of use  – meaning attention to detail on things like the pen, easy access to controls, balance, and pen/touch interaction.

Why a Latitude based XT and not a Vostro or Inspiron Tablet? Was it ever a possibility when first laying out the vision for entering the market? If so, what happened?

Latitude was the natural fit for the tablet since the bulk of the requests we were receiving were coming from the corporate market. Not to say there isn’t interest in a Dell tablet in the home and small business arena, but the most immediate need we heard was to deliver a product to the large business market. So we used this as a starting point and we’ll go from here.

Let’s talk about the table-saw video and the other viral videos Dell released prior to launch. Good move? Any regrets?

The point was to wake up a product category to let them know that something new was coming. 

Entering a new space certainly has its challenges.  What has Dell done with this launch that you are the most proud of and what you would you do differently?

In general, I think we’re most proud of the final product — really happy how the system turned out, especially with the feel, touch capabilities, and the ““little things” that make a difference. That said, we’re learning more every day about what can be improved and are taking that into account as we review plans for what we might do next. Also, I personally would’ve liked to have been to market sooner. I think the closer we got to launch, the more apparent the opportunity became. Delighted to be here now, but wish it could’ve been sooner.

Dell is obviously laying a lot on the table by choosing to go with N-Trig over the more entrenched digitizing powerhouse, Wacom. Besides the obvious multi-touch features we are all anticipating, what other factors led to that decision?

Really it was just a function of being able to start from scratch. We were able to take a look at all the technologies on the market, including the digitizer, and select the set that offered the best combination for our customers. With N-Trig, we felt we had the opportunity to break new ground with capacitive touch and other future capabilities, and the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

A lot of our readers are wondering about your plans to distribute the multi-touch enhancements that N-Trig is planning to release. Will current Latitude XT owners get the update? If so, when can we expect it and how do you plan to distribute it?

Definitely something we’re looking at, as mentioned during various presentations by our technologists. Don’t have any specifics to share yet but hope to have news on this soon.

How is Tablet PC technology being used by Dell and its employees? Do you see a time in the near future where all of your mobile employees will be using Tablet PC technology rather than a traditional notebook? Do you use an XT in your day to day work? Does Michael Dell use an XT in his day to day work?

Personally, I use a tablet in my day-to-day work as do several of my colleagues. OneNote has changed my life — I am officially a convert. As for Michael, I know he has an XT as do several members of our leadership team. Definitely a hot item around here.

On growth, I think it depends on the evolution of the technology. The cost difference to add tablet functionality to a notebook is still significant, so until that cost comes down, I don’t think we’ll see a huge shift in mix in spite of the efficiency tablets can offer.

Wacom told us during CES 2008 of their plans to enter the multi-touch / pen market in 2008. Have you had an opportunity to see their solutions? If so, what do you think? What do you think about InPlay and their capacitive touch solution?

I haven’t personally reviewed the specifics of either of these solutions, but certainly not surprised that several parties in the industry would embrace this technology. It’s certainly been well received by our customers, so we’re glad we got out front on this one.

As you might know, I recently purchased the Latitude XT.  I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. The enhanced touch experience is better than I’ve ever experienced on other touch Tablet PCs. However, I’m having a difficult time justifying to my readers why they would want to choose the Latitude XT over HP’s 2710p, Fujitsu’s T2010, and Lenovo’s X61. Sure, there are many things Dell has done quite well with the Latitude XT, that in my opinion, give it an edge. However, that $800 – $900 premium throws a wrench in to the whole thing. If that premium were gone, how would you see Dell’s place in the market changing?

First, thank you for your business :-)

I think the details of the exact premium depends on how the system is configured, but in general, no doubt that our solution is costlier — and therefore pricier — than other tablets on the market. Yet you’re also getting the leading touch experience available on the market, since Dell is the first and only major company right now to offer capacitive touch. Additionally, the hardware on the current XT is multitouch-ready, so your investment is future-proofed.  So, to some extent, that’s the ““price” of being on the leading edge of technology. That said, we’re always evaluating where things stand on the pricing/value scale and will look for opportunities to make the XT available to as wide an audience as possible.  

Let me also add that while capacitive touch is absolutely essential to XT equation, there are additional benefits that should not be forgotten. Let me leave you with a few points:

We do average a 10 percent premium compared to other products, but let me tell you what you get from a base configuration:

  • Capacitive touch — only in the industry built for accuracy and speed
  • Multi-touch support that is future proof — competitive resistive systems are not suited for this capability
  • Better standard graphics — best Aero experience
  • Longer standard warranty (also better in comparison to some) – 3 years vs 1 year
  • Touch and pen standard
  • Premium design features — hydro-graphic paint, chrome hinge built to last; one of the industry’s smallest power adapters; integrated mo-bro; thinnest 12.1-inch convertible

Thank you for your time. I’m excited to see how Dell takes what it learns in this first year and applies it to future products.

InkShow Video Reviews of the Latitude XT:

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