It’s the most important product launch for Dell this year. Maybe in the company’s history. And if you ask Neeraj Choubey, general manager of tablets within Dell’s Communications Solutions Group, the Mini 5 isn’t just another slate. He uses words like “category killer.” And that’s because the device that he’s bringing to market will be the first 5-inch Android tablet in the U.S. that can also make calls. Yes, the Mini 5 is a phone, as well as a mobile Internet device, camera, camcorder, GPS navigator, and media player. You could call it a tabletphone.
Choubey, who spent five years at Motorola and created Yahoo’s mobile search product before becoming a VC, also feels pretty strongly that the Mini 5 won’t be swept away by the iPad hype. And that’s because the two devices have different target audiences. In fact, Choubey told us flat out that the iPad isn’t really a mobile device, saying that it’s best for those who “have a handbag or a murse or whatever.”
Here are just some of the other highlights of our interview:
Even with all of these tidbits there’s still a lot of other great stuff Choubey shared during our in-depth conversation. So dig in and tell us if you think the Mini 5 has what it takes to be a hit.
Do you think consumers are ready for a device that sits between a traditional smart phone and netbook?
I think we had the same conversations about netbooks a few years ago. Do you really need a netbook if you have a laptop? And the netbook was pretty disruptive because of the price points. How successful it was for long-term productivity gains I’m not sure, but here was a lot of chips sold on it. I think the tablet device coupled with some of the innovative things that carriers are thinking about as far as pricing, it will be something we’ll continue to look at. Right now my users are saying this is interesting enough, please tell me more about it. And once we get the device out there we’ll continue to listen to them, and if they say we don’t like this or we do like this, we’ll take that feedback and put it into the product development process.
Why are you calling the Mini 5 a Tablet if you can use it as a phone?
Yes, there’s a phone in the device. We’re working with AT&T and when you get this device you stick a SIM chip in it and make phone calls the normal way. And, yes, you can hold it up to your head or use Bluetooth. But the flip side is that we’re trying to make a device that developers will get excited about.
Other than the screen size and Market support, what features will make the Mini 5 stand out?
The number one thing a lot of developers have told us that’s a unique feature for this device is that we have a front-facing webcam on it. We’ll be able to do peer-to-peer video conferencing, and we’re talking to a number of partners about that right now. There are probably a bunch of people out there thinking about augmented reality and different things you can do with a person and their face and how to present that in a mobile context. My job as a general manager is to make sure that I stay on the forefront of technology, listen to my users, and make sure that I not only keep my users happy but make a platform that developers are going to be excited to develop on.
What is the target market for the Dell Mini 5?
I’d say it’s definitely a more tech-savvy generation of people that understand the value of using alternate devices. There’s a use case that says my phone is really good at making phone calls, but in order to get the true Internet experience, being able to see a website in the shape and form that the original content publisher meant you to implicitly means you need a larger screen device. We’ve listened to customers and customers are dissatisfied with how they’re experiencing the Internet on their devices.
If you’re Apple, Apple would say go make an app for every service you have. The New York Times, traffic, whatever it is, which fits their business model great. But there’s a lot of developers out there doing Web-based content, flash-based content, and asking them to go do an iPhone app is kind of an onerous thing, whether you’re a mom and pop shop up to a large publisher. We’re all about bringing Internet content as it’s meant to be to a form factor that doesn’t require you to squint at your device. It’s a much more realistic and natural way for you to view the content.
Doesn’t that also mean that the Mini 5 might appeal to an older demographic, too?
There is bifurcation that we found in the research. Ostensibly there is this quintessential soccer mom, and she has an e-mail device, a cell phone and a PND device for the car and she also has a video camera and a point and shoot. You can consolidate all those devices into one device. This device is better than a Flip video camera, it’s better than a lot of the point and shoots out there, it’s better than the GPS navigation device that’s probably in the car, especially if it’s an in-dash one. In the use case that you’re in the car this has Bluetooth, it’ll connect, you can use a headphone, you don’t have to hold the device up to your head. When you’re walking you can hold it in your hand, and while you’re on the call you have a great device that you can do other stuff on as well.
Can you tell me if the Dell Mini 5 will be able to access the Android Market?
Yes, we are compliant. The initial device that we have has been blessed by Google and will have Google Mobile Services. You’ll have Gmail, you’ll have Marketplace, and you’ll have all the stuff that you would normally expect.
What percentage of the apps in the market do you expect the Dell Mini 5 can handle?
We’re in the middle of testing and I can’t share what that testing has shown but my expectation is that if it’s in the marketplace, it should work. Mind you, some apps may not be written to Google’s coding guidelines, and they may break for whatever reason. But if we find those apps and work with the developers, I’m sure that there’s no reason why that everything in the Google mobile marketplace will not work on the device.