@ CES: Dell Sets The Stage For Yet Another Stab At Making A Tablet

Dell is not among the companies announcing a new tablet this week at the CES show in Las Vegas, but it made sure to keep its name in the air. It says it plans to release a brand new tablet in late 2012, as part of a redoubled effort after very mixed success with its line of Android-based Streak devices.

In an interview with Reuters, Dell’s chief commercial officer Steve Felice does not say whether Dell’s new tablet will continue that Android line, or whether it will be based on Windows 8, the new Windows-based, tablet- and touch-friendly OS that is expected to ship this year.

Regardless, in the parlance of CES’s host town, Dell appears to be putting more chips down for this latest hand. If its earlier Streak effort was low-key and enterprise-focused, this next chapter looks like it will be more high-profile, aimed at consumers and the mass market. “You will see us enter this market in a bigger way toward the end of the year,” he told the news service.

That’s not to say that this means it will be more successful than past efforts, though. As the tablet and smartphone markets have evolved, and there is less emphasis on hardware specifications, there is a growing emphasis on the “ecosystems” that go into the devices, specifically around the services, apps and other content that can be consumed on those devices.

That’s an area where companies like Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) have a massive advantage, whereas Dell has yet to demonstrate much leadership.

At least Dell seems to realize this, which is a good start: “When you are talking about PC, people are more focused on the hardware itself,” Felice told Reuters (NYSE: TRI). “When you are talking about the tablet or the smartphone, people are interested in the overall environment its operating in,” he added. “As we have matured in this, we are spending a lot more time in the overall ecosystem.”

In December 2011, Dell stopped selling in the U.S. the seven-inch version of the Streak tablet (pictured). The company never released sales figures, and claims these days that it was an enterprise, not mass-consumer offering, but chances are that it was nevertheless finding it hard to compete against the best-selling iPad from Apple, other Android tablets, and perhaps most importantly, the seven-inch Kindle Fire from Amazon, sold at the margin-busting pricetag of $199.

Currently, Dell is not selling the Streak in other markets like the UK, either, but it has continued to offer Streak tablets in at least one market: China. (Here’s a 10-inch version that seems to have been released only there.)

When Dell pulled back from the market in December, some thought that this was because the company was setting itself up to make a Windows-based tablet. That is the approach likely to be taken by its rival HP (NYSE: HPQ), which itself pulled out of the tablet market last year; and Nokia (NYSE: NOK), which has become very cozy with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and is now using its Windows Phone OS in its new line of smartphones. If all these (and more) actually do elect to go the Windows 8 route, it could also mean a lot more of the same that we have seen with Android tablets, where a user would be hard-pressed to distinguish one brand from another. That’s another vote in favor of making the services on top of it as unique as possible.