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Dell explores wearable computing as PC base crumbles

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With PC sales falling and the battle over ownership of Dell still raging, the company is "exploring ideas" in the hot, hip, happening wearable computing field as a possible way forward.

"There are challenges in cost, and how to make it a really good experience," Sam Burd, Dell's global VP of personal computing, told The Guardian. "But the piece that's interesting is that computers are getting smaller. Having a watch on your wrist – that's pretty interesting, pretty appealing."

Plenty of others agree. Pebble is selling its smartwatch in US retail stores and online, Apple may or may not be producing an iWatch but it's certainly snapping up trademarks on the name, and Sony recently updated its SmartWatch device after six years of poor sales. Even Google is rumored to be adding a computerized wrist accessory to its Glass headware, so why not Dell, as well?

"We haven't announced anything, but we are looking at the technology in that space," Burd said. "I don't see any magic new form factor like the iPad – I don't think anybody saw how that was going to change devices. But the number of [computing] devices per person is exploding."

All this leaves Dell's core business of desktop PCs looking increasingly shaky. IDC predicts that sales of PCs will fall 7.8 per cent this year, and states that sales peaked in 2011. Businesses aren't going to upgrade PCs as ofter, since most are now fast enough for all but the most demanding of tasks, and all the sales action is in tablets, laptops, and smartphones – areas where Dell isn't particularly strong.

The company is claiming some success with Chipzilla's latest Haswell processor designs, and it had been thought (by Microsoft at least) that Windows 8 would provide a sales boost to the flagging PC space. But Burd said that sales of Dell's Latitude and XPS 10 Win8 fondleslabs were only in the "hundreds of thousands," and that large corporate customers aren't upgrading.

"It's going to take some time, and the jury is still out. IDC's numbers says that Windows 8 on tablets is still far smaller than the iPad, but there are successes," he said. "Maybe in a few years when we get to Windows 8 tablets being a third or 40 per cent of tablet volume we can feel it's happening. Tablets are definitely an important piece of the computing business."

Burd said he supported Michael Dell's plans to take the company private, saying it would free up management to make decisions that look beyond the next quarter's financial results. By the end of this month the result of the ownership battle should be known, and the company might have the freedom to take some dramatic new steps. ®

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