Create a New Niche or Be a Compromise Product

by TedV

The Windows arena could use a Media Rockstar.

Just like the old joke, a camel was a horse designed by a committee, there is little praise by a reviewer’s comments when he or she calls a new device a “Design Compromise.” And yet, a product that fills an “in-between” can be a major success.

Netbooks and now the iPad are “in-between” smartphones and laptops. And that brings me to the subject of my latest observations.

Dell is releasing their new Streak to fill the gap between the iPad and smartphones. If that gap actually becomes a viable niche it will be more a function of great marketing than the merits of this particular mini-slate or any similar sized device coming to the marketplace.

Walter Mossberg’s review of the Streak in The Wall Street Journal Online dances carefully and kindly between stating positive and awkward attributes of the product, such as:

“It is really a tweener device, a design compromise. Depending on how you use it, the Streak can be considered a giant smartphone or a minitablet. Dell is positioning it as a tablet, but, to me, it’s more of a very large smartphone, but one that, for many, will be too large to carry around comfortably.”

and

“The Streak’s 5-inch screen is much larger than the iPhone’s 3.5-inch display, or the 3.2-inch screen on the new BlackBerry Torch. But it didn’t feel radically larger to me than the 4.3-inch display on some of the newer Android smartphones, such as the HTC EVO, which, while bulky for a phone, is still much easier to fit in a pocket than the Streak is.”

Ted’s Statement of Personal Bias – and then I retract it

I have been a rabid fan of Apple and the Macintosh since shortly after leaving IBM in 1987. I dislike Windows in any version, but spend a great deal of time and productivity in Microsoft Office for Mac.

I do not want a PC, but that being said, if I ever buy a PC I’ll go no further than Dell.com. Michael Dell is just a little lower than Steve Jobs in my list of business greats in current times – Dell ranks below Jobs for one reason I’ll explain in a few paragraphs.

I’m Torn on the Streak Concept

The Streak might be a great innovation. There just might be a place for this format size as a viable niche. As much as I lust after an iPad, I cannot see it being the ever present tool like my cell phone. I cannot yet imagine carrying an iPad with me in a mini-backpack (shudder), or some version of a fanny pack. (Cringe and more shuddering.)

Though it is big, I could see a Streak in a belt clip rig if elegantly designed. The keyboard would work much better for my ham fists than an iPhone screen keyboard, and I believe the Streak’s screen size would be a significant step up in graphic geography.

The Relevance of Cult Products, Personalities, and Marketing Cachet

To succeed, to create a new niche, the Dell Streak just might need Steve Jobs – and since he has a hair appointment that day, Dell needs to create a marketplace personality that can begin to deliver Jobsien gravitas.

Tech companies may make loads of money selling products like PCs that have become commodities, but Apple has proven higher margins are in cult products. What Apple fans have not acknowledged by taking away the Cult Icon status of Apple products, is that Apple is no longer a tiny cult company.

• Apple dominates the iPod market and easily survived AntennaGate because they are such a force in smartphones.

• During prelaunch and even pre-announcement most pundits placed the iPad in with netbooks. When was the last time any of you saw a netbook article outside more obscure tech magazines and websites? Now every company with a netbook is scrambling to launch a slate or tablet.

• Many expect a truly rethought AppleTV with a Jobs-Touch marketing campaign to take away TiVo’s role as the big name in Digital Recorders.

I’d venture to say that the vast majority of the Streak’s media attention will revolve around comparing it to the iPad – not where you want to be if you are trying to create a new niche.

If I were Michael Dell – only he can make this happen – I’d find some cutting edge young ad agency and give them the mission of making him, Dell, a technology rockstar. This is the primary reason Dell stands below Jobs in my list of business geniuses in our times.

I’d develop a series of ads with him as the key actor. He’d carry his Streak with him everywhere. The ads would show him watching a movie on a subway with two others easily looking on, next to someone on an iPhone barely able to see an action flick. (I know Michael Dell doesn’t ride the subway.)

Next I’d have him sitting by someone in an airport quickly and easily typing out an email on the larger keyboard while someone struggles to do it on an EVO or Blackberry.

Then Michael would pull out a Streak from his sport coat pocket, while someone drops their iPad carrying several packages.

With each ad Dell would have to give us the adult version of the boyish charm he always showed in his earlier appearances.

It would take work, but Michael Dell could become the PC world’s answer to Steve Jobs. Windows devotees are looking for this champion to relate to. It will take money to do it, but it is possible. Windows users are a large crowd and they are tired of of us Mac fanatics rubbing whatever Steve Jobs did lately in their faces.

The Windows universe is looking for a charismatic leader, and it will be great Relevance Marketing to give it to them. It doesn’t have to be Michael Dell, but it has to be someone like him. A female might be better, but an actual actor won’t succeed. The person has to live the life, not play it on television.

It will also take a company like Dell with the big bucks and the resolve to stay the course. Steve Jobs wasn’t a cult leader when he introduced the iMac, but he keep at it, and used his superpowers for good – only on cool new ideas, not every little upgrade or Mac iteration out the doors.

The weak link behind this succeeding would be in failing to use this possible product cult cachet ONLY for truly innovative products. I doubt Dell Computer’s marketing department won’t want to use this bit of clout to trumpet any new product update, and the second they try this with the next iteration of a laptop or desktop, it will kill the charisma.

“But Job’s introduces their new laptop and desktop updates!”

Not all of them, and only when he’s announcing some other coolness or significant major enhancement like a new version of Mac OSX or when we see him with the new iTV or whatever they will call it when they bring the Apple TV out of hobby status.

People relate to rockstars and superheroes, and they don’t have to play an instrument or fight crime.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian Blanchard August 20, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I think you should make me the QCI rockstar, and as long as I don’t have to sing we will be OK. Great article! I will need to look up gravitas… I think it is something heavy in Mexico.

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