Dell will launch a 10-inch Windows 7-based tablet for business users later this year, aimed primarily at "vertical" markets such as health care, education and the financial sector, the company said Tuesday.
Dell is hedging its bets, however, as it also plans to offer 10-inch tablets based on Google's Android OS, said Steve Lalla, head of Dell's business client division.
He spoke at an event where Dell launched a major refresh of all its PC, laptop and workstation products. He called it "the largest commercial client refresh in the history of Dell".
The new products included the Latitude XT3, an update to Dell's existing XT2 convertible tablet. It's not a true tablet like the iPad, but rather a laptop with a touchscreen that swivels around and folds over the keyboard. The new model has a larger, 13-inch screen and a newer Intel processor.
The Windows 7 tablet coming later this year will be a true tablet, though Dell has some work to do before it's ready for market. The device Lalla held aloft on Tuesday was a mock-up with a fake screen.
"It's a preview, we don't have a working model to show," he said in an interview later. But he added that Dell may release the product "much sooner" than the end of the year.
Windows 7 has got off to a slow start in tablets and some are skeptical it can succeed in that type of device. Windows 7 wasn't designed primarily with tablets in mind, noted industry analyst Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies. "I don't expect to see any serious Windows tablets until next year," when Windows 8 is expected, Bajarin said.
Still, he said some enterprise customers are interested. And a Windows tablet could be attractive because it will integrate more easily with existing management and security tools, he said.
Dell didn't give many details about the product. Lalla said in the interview that it will use the next version of Intel's Atom processor, known as Oak Trail, and that Dell will differentiate it from existing Windows 7 tablets by aiming it at specific vertical markets, namely manufacturing, health care, finance and education.
It will also offer a "general purpose" model on Dell's website, he said.
Android-based tablets could also find a home in the enterprise, Lalla said. In fact, with the tablet and smartphone markets still evolving, Dell is betting on all the horses, Android, Windows, x86 and ARM-based processors.
It already sells the Streak 5 and the Streak 7, which are 5- and 7-inch devices based on Google's Android OS. The 5 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and the 7 has a dual-core Tegra chip.
Dell also sells a smartphone called the Venue Pro based on Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 software. It has a 4.1-inch touch display and a mini-keyboard that slides out of the bottom.
Gartner and IDC have both said tablets appear to be eating into PC sales, but Lalla said he expects sales to be additive. Some consumers have bought tablets as their primary device, but Dell expects them to be used more as complements in the business world.
All the new systems announced Tuesday, apart from the Windows 7 tablet, will start to ship in about a month. They use Intel's new Sandy Bridge chips, but Lalla said none of the products were delayed as a result of the glitch Intel reported with that platform last week. It appears Dell was lucky with its timing.
Intel said Monday it had started shipping Sandy Bridge components without the fault. "We believe that over the next few weeks we'll have the situation well in hand," said Ricardo Echevarria, general manager of Intel's business client platform division, who was at the Dell event.
There are a few common themes running through the updates to Dell's new laptops, desktops and workstations announced Tuesday. One is better support for communications tools such as Skype, made possible by better cameras, microphones and sound cards, Dell said.
A new wave of workers, generation Y, are displacing the baby boomers and demanding more consumer-like technologies in their PCs. "They're going to be making the decisions about what our future customers will be using," said Ken Musgrave, who runs Dell's enterprise design group.