Hey look, a dishonest whitepaper

 » April 26th, 2013

Dell commissioned Principled Technologies to put together a whitepaper on the cost of enterprise deployment for iPads vs. Dell’s Latitude 10 tablet running Windows 8. Bradly Chambers (h/t @gruber) takes apart Dell’s arguments around this pretty handsomly, but with claims like “85% cheaper to manage” (in favour of the Dell, natch), I thought the whitepaper could stand a closer look. Because here’s the thing: whitepapers sound like research, and they do their best to look like research, but they are not research. They’re not reviewed, they have no minimum standards for experimental procedure, reason or even honesty. Whitepapers, like the one we’re talking about here, are marketing literature dressed up in an ill-fitting scientist costume.

Spoiler: There is little that is Principled about Principled Technologies’ tablet whitepaper.

Throughout the report they’ve made every effort to handicap the iPad as much as possible. My guess is that the report is aimed at a predominantly iOS-unfamiliar tech audience; they’re banking on people not realizing how ludicrous their claims are.

Let’s look at some of the most dizzying conclusions (prices given per-device):

Deployment cost: Dell = $1.16; iPad = $19.47.

For the Dell they presumed that you’d be creating a basic system image, then pushing that out to your tablets. This is very reasonable. They helpfully assumed that you’d be able to to simultaneously image 10 devices at a time.

With the iPad, however, they conveniently skipped over Apple’s mass configuration utility for iOS devices. They instead timed out manually powering on each device, setting it up and then downloading apps, one by one, by hand. On each device. But don’t take my word for it: “We timed the manual steps of turning on the device, going through the initial system menus, and installing apps on the device. We chose a sample of popular enterprise and productivity apps.

Management computers: Dell = $0.00; iPad = $5.00

I’ll quote: “The Dell tablets need no additional management computers. We assume they use the ones already in place for managing notebooks and desktops.” Seems fair.

Let’s compare: “We include the cost of five computers to help with iPad deployment. These computers would have iTunes installed to assist in backups, restores, device syncs, and other iPad-related tasks.” I see. You know, if they’d at least included the Apple Configurator utility in the previous calculation, they could reasonably argue that they’d need at least one Mac. But they didn’t. I guess they needed a special iTunes-capable computer.

Printing: Dell = $0.00; iPad = $5.00

The Dells (theoretically) work with your (theoretical) preexisting printers. Awesome you guys!

Unfortunately, even though there are over 550 AirPrint-compatible printers (including six made by Dell), we regret to inform you that we have imagined that your office printers are not AirPrint-compatible. Don’t worry, though, you can just buy more computers! You can’t use the computers we bought in the last step, though. Those are for iTunes and these ones are for printing. It’s a common mistake.

I think we can tease out a pattern here.

What surprises me isn’t that this white paper came down in favour of Dell tablet ownership – this is a Dell-commissioned study, of course. I’m just amazed at how little effort was put into making this convincing. Battery replacement ($79 for the Dell, done on-site vs $110 for the iPad, shipped to Apple) is an example of a reasonable cost comparison that breaks in Dell’s favour. I figured that the paper’s authors would cherry pick a few of those, selectively ignore issues like dealing with malware (which I can tell you from my days in IT, is a major headache and a major cost), and call it a day. Maybe the iPad is more expensive to operate, but we certainly can’t tell that from this study.

On one hand, a study like this and the associated press-release froth coming out of Dell is little more than “BREAKING: Dell sez Dell the best.” I wonder about IT heads, and how many of them, unfamiliar with iOS and Apple, take a report like this at face value. But I wonder more about whether some of the suits at Dell have been smoking a bit too much of their own stash here. I wonder how much traction this report gets inside of Dell. Nilay Patel did a great roundup of some of Dell’s most eye-popping flops recently, and they all seem to point to a company that is deeply out of touch with what makes a great (or even good) product. If I was in charge at Dell, I’d sure as hell be evangelizing about how much better our products are than our competitors, but I’d be embarrassed to try to float a report as shoddy as this one.

If there are people at Dell reading this as the truth, they’re in worse shape than I’d imagined.