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Dell's Adamo Takes a Page From the Apple Playbook

Adamo NotebookAs expected, Dell (s DELL) today releases the Adamo notebook PC, its entry into the high-end ultra-thin market dominated by Apple’s (s AAPL) Macbook Air.

On the surface, bringing out a $2,000 “fashion” laptop in the middle of a difficult economy may seem like a mistake. Dell’s taken a huge hit financially, and many industry watchers say Dell is especially vulnerable because it receives 80 percent of its revenue from business users. As businesses are moving toward cloud-based computing software, they’re likely to refresh their hardware less often.

Given that, Adamo might look like a product that’s dead on arrival. But that’s a wrong assumption. Two main things will keep it from being a dud: The trend toward design as a major factor in purchases and Dell’s long-term customer loyalty initiatives.

Design is now a key sales differentiator and is an area where old-school companies can catch up. Apple (s AAPL) benefits from the company’s obsession with aesthetic austerity, obviously, but even staid Lenovo’s gained attention from customers through beautiful designs (See: the IdeaPad U110) — and there’s no reason Dell can’t do the same.

Adamo Thirteen NotebookAdamo’s aluminum unibody design copies Apple’s recent MacBook Pro update, has a super-thin .65-inch body, and its overall metal/glass construction screams futuristic. Having seen it up close in a meeting last week, I’ll say it beats any current ultra-thin in looks. Where older Dell laptops were highly customizable, but bland, the Adamo is only available in Onyx or Pearl and with two spec configurations.

Dell may also be able to parlay its recent high customer service ratings into sales. In the last two years, the company has pushed through an aggressive customer service campaign through forums, and it’s now using Twitter and other social networks to grow customer loyalty further. Dell’s customers are already generally loyal – many people in their 20s and 30s grew up with a cheap Dell laptop and were satisfied with the value; when they’re ready to upgrade to a nicer laptop, they’re more likely to turn to an offering from Dell.

So, how does the Adamo actually stack up? Its 1.2 GHz Core 2 Duo SU9300 loses out to the $2,000 MacBook Air’s 1.86GHz, but it has a 120GB solid state drive (SSD). The Air comes with a skip-prone 120GB SATA hard drive (though you can upgrade to an SSD for an extra $500). Like the Lenovo X300, the Adamo has all standard ports, and its better glass display comes in at about 13.4-inches wide. It is heavier, however, weighing in at 4 lbs. Finally, like the Air, it lacks a standard internal optical drive; adding one will cost you $120.

There’s one thing that could present problems for Dell, and that’s its own success with value-based pricing. The $2,000 Dell Studio XPS 13 may trade down on design, but it offers better features: a 2.66 GHz processor (Intel Core 2 Duo) and a 128 GB  SSD.

Adamo Thirteen NotebookBut the rise of netbooks has taught us that people are realizing they don’t need the most powerful computer. Mix this with the rising popularity of Apple’s expensive offerings, and it’s becoming clear that at this point in time, those likely to pony up for the Adamo’s price are more likely to pay for the privilege of the design than they are to compare between minimal power differences.

As the middle class is being squeezed, services (or products) are moving toward two price extremes. In this case, it’s ‘best value’ and ‘best designed.’ For consumers in the market for a $1,500 laptop, an extra $500 is chump change, and they probably care about design. For those in the market for a sub-$1,000 laptop, opting for a netbook used with web-based services seems like a  smart move.

Dell may still be the second largest PC maker in the world, but in order to keep up, it needs to fly its design-freak flag high. Because in the near future, design might be one of only two things that matters.

24 Responses to “Dell's Adamo Takes a Page From the Apple Playbook”

  1. I totally agree with your comment “For consumers in the market for a $1,500 laptop, an extra $500 is chump change, and they probably care about design.” Users can look two ways about this, if you want performance, go get a fat ugly performance laptop. if you want to save money, get a netbook.

  2. jbelkin

    Dell’s 20 year old users call it Dell Hell … just because they are twittering does not mean anything because Dell buyers buy on price alone, anything priced above $499 means it’s priced too high for Dell buyers. This is doomed as is Dell.

  3. A Damned ‘0″!
    Caterpillar just laid off 2,000 employees and deciding between either Onyx or Pearl to put inside a manila envelope to bring into the conference room will guarantee first place on the next round of layoffs. Why bother with ram, processor speed and operating system when flashing Onyx or Pearl is what “A Damned ‘0″” is all it is about. Wait, if you never open it up or turn it on, Dell can claim it’s even greener than a Mac!

  4. sfmitch

    Non-SSD drives are now skip-prone? News to me.

    The Macbook Air is $1799 with the 1.6GHz C2D processor and 120GB Hard drive. $200 less and 1/3 faster clock speed.

    • Yes, that was a damn odd, completely made up comment, wasn’t it, sfmitch?

      Author, if the heads or platter (separated by mere microns) were to skip, the odds are nearly 100% that the heads would catastrophically destroy all the data on the drive. Have you been reading any stories lately about hard drive spontaneously eating themselves in large numbers? Or are you confused by misinformed blog posters talking about HD-based music players skipping while running versus flash players? This is a myth. A HD-based player might skip because the speed of read/write can be hindered by moving across the disk to various scattered sectors, hence using RAM buffers. A skipping hard drive is a faulty, dead hard drive. They aren’t “prone” to skip.

      I’d be more concerned about the limited life of Flash read/writes versus a skipping hard drive.

  5. Fernando

    Dell might’ve taken a page from the apple playbook with the design of the Adamo, however, it should look at taking a page out of Apple’s marketing playbook as well. The home page does not mention the Adamo anywhere.

    How can you launch a product and then not promote it on your own site? Apple would never make such a blunder.

  6. @Om

    Have to agree with Jose. Maybe for people utterly immersed in the tech world OS is king, but aside from the uber-loyal Mac crowd, I don’t think your average consumer is all that hung up on the operating system. As long as you can do what you want to do, it’s not that big a deal either way.

  7. Strange timing from them to say the least. With Windows ending XP sales in the summer, it presents us with the notion of having to get Vista on this laptop, which surely is going to turn people away. (Others will wait offcourse until Windows 7, the mainstream obviously will probably have never heard of ubuntu or open source OS’s.)

    I think Apple will win this one, from a OS perspective more so than design/price.

  8. Jose Fermoso

    I agree that the software of the computer is vital, and I’d probably consider it to be on the side of ‘quality design’ of my above thesis. But I just don’t think there’s much of a quality difference between OS X and Windows as others do, and I’ve been using both, every day, for years.

    Regarding the Voodoo Envy, it’s certainly a nice laptop but the equivalent specs put it at half the SSD capacity of the Adamo, while surpassing it in the speed proc. (1.6 Ghz to 1.2Ghz). That’s not a massive difference, and personally, it’s a bit of a gloss-fest. Place your hand on it once, anywhere, and it looks like Pig-Pen (from Peanuts) has cradled an obsidian rock for hours!

    The VAIO Z is nice as well and quite similar to the Adamo, but way more expensive and not as sleek. As for the Acer, I don’t know anyone who owns a regular-sized one from it (netbooks are a different story), though that may change with the company’s recent announcement for an ultra-thin.

  9. @lionel

    we shall see. i think you guys have ways to go. not to mention you have perception of quality problems that are unbelievable. anyway good luck. i hope you guys do better on this one than your pda, music players, televisions… oh wait… those are not on the market anymore.

    and by the way.. don’t drop links into comments. shows you don’t really get social media.

  10. Jose

    it doesn’t matter how great a design they might have — HP Voodoo is much better on paper right now and Sony VAIO Z series are pretty nifty too – in the end most computers are known by the OS they keep and no I don’t think Windows Vista or 7 are there yet. I am yet to meet a person who can vouch for Dell quality. They in fact prefer HP and Acer over Dell. So these pretty looks aren’t going to be enough. And Dell, does have a me-too quality.