Dell’s Thinking Outside the Tablet

by Ben Bajarin   |   March 13th, 2013

Boy Using XPS 18 Portable AIO on FloorWhat is a tablet? Sorry to get philosophical but I think this is an interesting question–especially of late. I sensed from the first early glimpses I got of Windows 8 that we would see hardware that would cause us to question whether it was a tablet or a notebook. I’m still not sure the hybrid or convertible devices on the market today have yet nailed a mass market success and I remain pessimistic that they ever will. Pure slate tablets are the hot ticket and I believe will continue to be for the foreseeable future. However, there is one category of Windows 8 devices that has had my interest peaked for a while. That is portable, large screen, touch based, all-in-one PCs.

Today Dell is releasing the XPS 18. An all-in-one computer. Typically when I refer to this category, I call it an all-in-one desktop computer. However, with the XPS 18, I can not use that term because this all-in-one is not confined to a desk but is rather a highly portable 5 lb computer with a tablet twist. The XPS 18 is not positioned as a tablet nor should it be, but still, many of the key value propositions of tablets are applicable. I guess perhaps with the exception of putting it in a bag and leaving the house for work, school, or Starbucks–or are they?

I first saw these larger screen portable all-in-ones late last year. The reinvention, or I should say redefining, of the desktop category was a trend I had been tracking for a while. Larger, portable, touch computing solutions were not something readily available for the mass market until now. I first saw a touch based table top PC when Microsoft first showed me their Surface Table. That product was too pricey but I felt had a great deal of potential. In my opinion, the XPS 18 is the first to deliver on this new vision of a larger screen touch computing solution.

What makes this product interesting to me is the communal nature of the device. I have been writing for a while now about my conviction for touch based computing products and how there will be some that are personal (meaning intimately tied to a single person) and there will be ones that are communal (meaning freely shared within a community). The communal nature of a computer has always been the case of a desktop PC. These devices, as they matured, were largely used in consumers homes as a shared device. That is what makes this new class of touch based portable all-in-ones so interesting to me.

Dell is positioning this correctly in my opinion because they are focusing it on family use cases. Families can gather around this and use the 10 pt multi-touch functions to play games, or draw together, etc. Yet on top of the many new uses cases that will emerge from this category, consumers still have the bare bones powerful PC they still need for every day computing tasks. But its large screen portability is what I think is interesting. By having an 18-inch portable display that is connected to the web, and runs Windows applications, it opens up some new possibilities. Using it as a portable TV or media hub for example. Or in the kitchen for recipes, or out in the garage for how-to videos and instructions, or even for backseat passengers in the car since it gets 5 hour battery life.

Mother and Son Using XPS 18 AIO on Couch

I know several of the use cases I pointed out can also be used for tablets like the iPad, however, what makes the XPS 18 interesting is that it can also be used a full desktop class PC. There is a role for both in my opinion. I firmly believe that the XPS 18 will challenge many peoples pre-conceptions of not just what an all-in-one computer is but also what a tablet is and means to them. At $899 it is actually a reasonable price for a device that may blur the lines for many use cases consumers are looking for.

My friends from Dell came to our offices last week and gave me the walkthrough of the product and let me have some time with it. They set it up with the Bluetooth Keyboard and mouse and I never touched them. I just picked it up, put it on my lap, and started playing with it. I plan on doing a full review / analysis of the XPS 18 but what I will say for now was that I was impressed and intrigued by this form factor. I applaud Dell’s thinking with this product as well as with many other nicely designed computers they have released of late.

Mostly individuals use computers, but there is a place for a family computing device. I believe companies that approach computing from a family standpoint will generate interest in the products they make even if they are simply stand alone solutions. I expect many more solutions like this to come but for now, the Dell XPS 18 may be the best family computer/(tablet?) I have seen to date.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • stevesup

    Cool tool. But the photos are a bit deceptive. It’s almost 5 pounds. I resist using my iPad in the same positions shown in the photo cus’ it’s a chore to prop it up for a long time. This is one of those moments when you know Apple will do one of these, when the poundage falls to an acceptable level.

    • benbajarin

      Yes it is almost 5lbs but I have to say it didn’t feel like it and was balanced well. The use cases for this are vastly different than an iPad for example. This is one of those products where I used it for a bit and was left intrigued. I have a pretty good track record of getting some time with a product and knowing whether it will do well or not. Then there are times I am not sure. This one, I am not sure.

      Will be curious to see how it plays out in the family life when I get one to try.

  • def4

    Not a bad proof of concept, but this is no successful product.
    Consumers will not buy any new computing product over $200 if it is anything less than amazing.

    Replacement PCs in mature markets and new PCs in emerging markets sell for $300 – $600. Nobody is paying $900 for this just because we think it’s … interesting.

    Honestly, I think putting on sale a tablet that weighs over 1kg and needs fans for cooling is so out of touch with reality that it boggles the mind.

    • benbajarin

      I do still think there is a spot for a portable larger screen touch computer. Not sure of all the implications of this yet but I’ll have a deeper analysis once I get one of these to try.

  • Grwisher

    Regarding: “Dell is positioning this correctly in my opinion because they are focusing it on family use cases.”

    Would have captured the market in the “Ozzie and Harriet” era. :-)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventures_of_Ozzie_and_Harriet

  • Paul Squassoni

    Ben, I like your instincts (as well as your articles!). After decades of watching people learn and work together, it strikes me that the limitations of screen space and single user input have always made collaborative computer work difficult. Although many people work together now over long distances, most people work together in close proximity in small groups. Something this size would be ideal for education, offices, factory settings, even retail.

    I’m not speaking here of Dell’s machine, of course. A really useful device would need to be lighter, cheaper, and may not need to run Windows at all, if there is access to robust vertical applications on a network or in the cloud. But it is not hard to see a time not far distant when people will use multi-user devices for working, learning and playing together.

  • Mike

    One perspective being overlooked is that of the office IT Manager. With fleets of XP or Windows 7 non-touch desktops to be replaced, something like the XPS 18 may be the perfect way to bring in Windows 8 and the supporting hardware. With a minimum of wires and components to fuss with, IT can quickly deploy dozens of these at a time. All that’s missing is a docking stand that supports wired Ethernet and a 2nd display.

  • Anastasia Tremaine

    I am really excited by this. I am a consultant and taking notes on my Surface Pro was proving great, but it’s just too small to have presentations with clients at their houses and such. This seems like a GREAT presentation device for salespeople. Not sure about how superior for a family computer vs. iPad, etc. Might even use it for notes or art if it comes with Wacom stylus.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jim.russ Jim R

    I wish you would have elaborated more on the portable TV aspect. Does the base station have a coaxial connection and TV tuner that than sends the TV signal over WiFI to the tablet?