Sure, Dell's business has expanded and evolved well beyond PCs, thanks in part to acquisitions and other moves. And it certainly has its stake in the so-called post-PC era, with tablets and other touchscreen devices already in the market and more to come.
That hasn't meant turning its back on the PCs that helped make Dell a mainstay in corporate offices and other organizations. The company continues to roll out new models, such as the Latitude 3330 laptop it announced on Tuesday, gloomy PC sales reports be darned. You'll never believe this, but there might be room for both PCs and tablets -- and other touch-oriented devices -- in business and educational environments.
"We still see significant demand for traditional notebooks," said Dell product marketing director Brett McAnally in an interview. "Obviously, we see demand for tablets as well."
[ Tablets are the future, according to one educator. Read Why Tablets Will Kill Smart Boards In Classrooms. ]
The Latitude 3330 is intended primarily for use in schools, with crossover into small businesses. That's in part because of a starting price tag as low as $419 (running Ubuntu) or $519 (running Windows 7), a number that cash-strapped school administrators and business owners can stomach more easily than, say, a $1,200 ultrabook. That's all the more true for schools upgrading a classroom's worth or more of PCs at the same time.
There's another factor here, too. Schools, like most businesses, are focused on work rather than play. Among the Latitude 3330's notable features is one that isn't included: a touchscreen, although the Latitude 3330 does support Windows 8.
McAnally noted a couple of reasons offices and schools aren't likely to stop buying traditional PCs any time soon. "One is just the need for high productivity," he said, adding that some tasks or applications, such as building PowerPoint presentations, aren't optimal on a touchscreen today, especially small ones. He offered an education-specific example: Standardized testing.
"The smaller screen-type devices tend to be more of a challenge for some of the standardized testing that's out there today," McAnally said. Screens that require too much scrolling or movement to complete might put students at a disadvantage, for instance. "There's a high preference, especially among the younger kids, to have that large screen size."
Windows 7 is another factor. "We're seeing continued demand for Windows 7 as a lot of businesses, small businesses, and even education accounts are still just planning or just beginning a Windows 7 migration," McAnally said.
McAnally's far from a touch naysayer. On the contrary, he's an optimist and noted that Dell has offered touch on commercial hardware for years, and has recently been building out a more robust consumer lineup. Among other areas where McAnally sees a strong current or future match with touchscreens: health, touch-centric service businesses, and, yes, schools.
"Windows 8 is clearly an investment area. We're very bullish," McAnally said. "We think touch definitely has a place and is a natural fit. We continue to evaluate and expand our touch offerings."
McAnally declined to comment specifically on recent reports from Gartner and IDC that painted a less-than-positive picture of PC sales. "We still see, through thousands and thousands of customer conversations on a regular basis, strong demand for both tablets as well as PCs," McAnally said. "There are general preferences depending on usage models and how things are being used, but there's clearly demand for both."
That's likely to spill over into operating systems, where Windows 7 and Windows 8 will coexist just like previous versions have. Windows XP, after all, retains a significant market share as it approaches its end-of-support date.
"It's a combined play between those two for the foreseeable future," McAnally said.
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