Dell's 'virtual smartphone': Too much, too late

Dell shows off clever ideas for enterprise mobile device management, but system may be too top-heavy and Dell-centric

A newly announced product from Dell, set to debut this October, is being touted as a way to turn any late-model smartphone into a managed business smartphone, with its own voice line, storage management, and app ecosystem. But it might be too much, too late.

The Dell Virtual Smartphone deserves points for its clever concept and deployment. Android and iOS users download a single app to their smartphone, which provides a slew of functionality under one roof: a dedicated business voice line provided by Vonage; protected file sharing and synchronization via Box for Dell; the usual trio of email, contacts, and calendaring from Microsoft Office 365; and corporate Web apps by way of Dell's Mobile Connect SMA solution.

By delivering a single, self-contained, self-service app, Dell hopes to dispel a great deal of the complexity in deploying and managing a mobile device for a business user. Again, some details of the system show careful thought, such as the way Vonage calls can be routed over Wi-Fi, 4G, or conventional cell networks, depending on existing network access and a user's travel habits. Plus, Dell wisely included support for Box and Microsoft Office, both ubiquitous in enterprises.

Getting businesses to take the plunge, though, isn't as simple as having the end-user deploy the app. For one, the Virtual Smartphone relies on multiple Dell management products -- most conspicuous, the Dell Enterprise Mobility Management framework, a product overshadowed by the existing leaders in that space ( Good Technology, MobileIron, AirWatch). For an existing company, that means a rip-and-replace. A greenfield deployment or a startup is likely to take an entirely different attitude toward BYOD or MDM -- rooted more in access to information than the management of devices. Dell's solution offers some of that, but with the considerable overhead of having to trust everything to Dell.

The voice component may also be an all-or-nothing deal. Much of the pitch Dell makes for the Vonage-powered calling system in Virtual Smartphone centers on predictability of pricing and streamlined billing, rather than integration with existing systems. It's likely that Vonage call-routing could be made compatible with legacy PBXs or all-digital systems like Asterisk, but not clear if it'll integrate with Microsoft's Lync as part of the Office 365 integration Dell touts as part of the package.

Dell shows creativity for the way it packages so much into a single self-service container, but it arrives years too late. It's doubly ironic that the platforms that can now support such an ambitious endeavor -- today's iOS and Android -- didn't exist at the time this approach would have been more welcome.

This article, "Dell's 'virtual smartphone': Too much, too late," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.