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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dell Sets Stage to Take On Apple's iCloud


With a new release of its Stage software, Dell has quietly created a cloud-based service offering that could offer consumers a compelling reason to keep investing in Dell devices.

The new release, which began shipping last week, allows users who snap a picture with a Dell Streak or other Dell mobile device to automatically upload it to a pool of free, shared cloud storage. The new software also allows devices to remotely control and play back shared audio and video, plus other services.

For consumers, Dell's Stage release is probably more important than the new "More You" ads that began playing this week. One of the results that emerged as Dell began the market research behind the "More You" campaign is that customers, unsurprisingly, have begun to use PCs and mobile devices to store their digital memories.

"We asked them, what is so important about that computer... and whether [the respondent] was Chinese, Japanese, or Indian, ultimately it was because 'my life is on that thing,'" said Paul-Henri Ferrand, the chief marketing officer of Dell's global consumer business and SMB, and also president of Dell's Asia-Pacific/Japan business.

Stage is an attempt to take that digital content and allow users to control and manage it effortlessly, said Tim Peters, a vice president responsible for platform strategy within Dell. Within the PC, it cuts across Dell's XPS, Inspiron, and Alienware brands, and can be controlled from Dell's mobile devices. "It's a critical part of the Dell experience," Peters said.

What's new: remote cloud storage, photo uploads, and more

The Stage software, which Dell began shipping last year, appears as a set of square tiles on a user's PC, with various categories like "Books," "Photos," and "Apps". The new release makes each tile 3D, versus the two-dimensional images that appeared in the older version of Stage.

Any time a user snaps a digital photo with a Stage-enabled device, the new Stage software automatically uploads it to a free 2-Gbyte pool of storage. (Any content can be stored there, according to a Dell spokesman, including movies, pictures, and music.) Users can purchase additional capacity, including 5 Gbytes for $19.99/year, 25 Gbytes for $49.99/yr, and 100 Gbytes for $149.99/yr.

Automatic photo uploads is a feature reserved for just a few services at this point, among them Google's Google's latest Google+. Storing music in the cloud has also been the domain of other services, most notably Apple's iCloud.

Audio and video can be remotely controlled via Stage devices, Dell executives said. Dell has also added support for podcasts; an integrated Noisey application, which showcases music from all over the world; and an enhanced Napster home page.

Dell began life as a hyper-efficient box builder, known for its "just in time" strategy of managing inventory efficiently than anything else. If buyers wanted the latest Intel microprocessor, they bought it from Dell. Years later, however, leadership in the PC space has evolved into a competition whose products are differentiated using design, services, and price as metrics. Ferrand described his business as a "brand war," where Dell is aspiring to become something like an Audi of the PC world, where the quality of its fit and finish is complemented by a faith in its superior engineering.

"With Stage, we're building to the experiences of people, rather than building to specs," Ferrand said.

For more from Mark, follow him on Twitter @MarkHachman.