Dell Streak: iPad Competition or Design Blunder?

While some of the earliest contenders to the iPad’s throne seem like they won’t be contending at all (the HP (s hpq) Slate, Microsoft’s (s msft) Courier), other major personal electronics players are stepping forward to challenge Apple (s aapl) on the tablet front. Including Dell (s dell), who recently unveiled the Streak, an Android-based touchscreen device.

But there are number of things off about the Dell Streak. First, it’s quite a small device. With a screen only half the size of the iPad’s, and only slightly bigger than most modern smartphones at 5-inches, it seems somewhat awkwardly sized. Second, it can act as a smartphone, making calls, texting, etc. It doesn’t really blur the line between smartphone and tablet so much as sit completely on the smartphone side of said line.

While both the Streak and the iPad run operating systems designed originally for smartphones, the iPad clearly isn’t one. It’s too large to comfortably hold up to your face, and, more importantly, it lacks the internals and software necessary to process phone calls. The iPad’s role in the digital ecosystem may not be entirely clear, but it knows what it isn’t, and that’s a phone.

The Dell Streak is a phone, whatever its marketing department may want you to believe. And that may be its strongest aspect in terms of going toe to toe with the iPad, in that it only does so in a broad sense, fighting generally for consumer electronic dollars without really encroaching on the super-specific niche Apple has carved out.

Dell’s Streak seems like the punchline to an old joke about the iPad: It’s like the iPad except it fits in your pocket, has a camera and makes phone calls. And it stands a chance of competing with the device in terms of sales, but not with the iPhone, the next revision of which will undoubtedly blow it out of the water. But saying you’re making an iPhone killer is so passé at this point, and it’s a claim many smartphone makers have found themselves regretting. Pitting the Streak against the iPad instead avoids both of those pitfalls.

Bottom line, it may be a clever marketing maneuver, but it isn’t a tablet. I doubt very much the Streak will be leeching any customers away from Apple’s devices, be they tablets or the next generation iPhone. Dell’s effort makes the mistake of trying to be everything to everybody and missing the mark entirely. A larger tablet dubbed the Looking Glass seems to be in the cards for the near future from Dell, though, so we’ll see if it learns any lessons for that effort.

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