Me Too Phone: Dell to Release a Smartphone?

meetooThe WSJ reports that Dell is about to release a cell phone, possibly as early as next month.  Dan Frommer says it might be called the MePhone, and has a rumored release date of 9/9/09.  9/9/99 would be a better date, and here’s why.

First, the train has left the station.  And the iPhone is clearly the locomotive.  Far behind, but still hanging on, are RIM’s Blackberry Storm (if you’re thinking of buying one, click that link and the intro will send you scrambling towards the Apple Store) and the various Android devices (which have Google’s mojo, money and applications behind them, mainly to get more Google apps into use).  The once thought to be dead Palm prepares to attempt a comeback with the Pre (a silly name, but who knows, maybe it will give the iPhone some much needed competition).

When the Storm came out, there was a little buzz, but not a fraction of the buzz that surrounds even a minor iPhone update.  In the following weeks, the press and reviews were mixed, at best.  I work in the most Blackberry-centric industry there is, and I have seen exactly one Storm in the wild.

Even with Google behind it, the Android buzz came and went, almost without anyone outside of the tech blogosphere noticing.  The Pre is getting some attention, partially out of surprise and partially out of hope.

But in the end they are all playing for second place.  Or in Dell’s case, fourth or fifth.

The iPhone/Apple cult combination has created such tremendous loyalty and raised expectations to such an lofty extent that it would be almost impossible for any new device to measure up- much less blow people away.  Sure, I’m in the iPhone/Apple club, but a true competitor would be the best thing that could happen for consumers.

Yes, competition would be the best thing.  About the worse thing, at least for Dell, would be to toss out a “me too” handset just to get in the handheld game.  Dell already tried to compete with Apple in the MP3 player space, only to beat a hasty retreat.  Last year there were reports that another attempt was forthcoming, but that attempt was delayed.  I have no idea what the plan is now.

Remember the Dell Axim?  Me neither.  Dell entered the cooling PDA market in 2002.  And withdrew in 2007.

As computers complete the inevitable transition from beloved high-end electronic device to taken for granted low-end commodity, I suppose Dell has to follow the money and the margins.  But unless they have beat the odds and created something that is revolutionary, or at least evolutionary, and not at all devolutionary, it’s not going to work.

I hope I’m wrong.