Dell paints laptops into a corner

A Dell Inc. executive blamed painting problems for the long delays in shipping the company’s top-of-the-line XPS M1330 laptops to frustrated customers.

Alex Gruzen, a senior vice president in Dell’s consumer products group, also said on the Direct2Dell blog that the company has shipped only 10 percent of the backlogged orders for the laptop it has touted as “the world’s thinnest 13.3-inch notebook” since a June 26 launch.

But it was a problem with painting the M1330 that Gruzen spent most of his post explaining. “The finish on the XPS M1330 is similar to a custom paint job on a car,” he said, “but with one additional complexity — on a car, typical viewing occurs from several feet away. With a notebook, the typical viewing range is much closer… sometimes a foot or less. This requires a different level of attention to detail.”

He went on to say that two of the three colour choices — red and white — require more coats of paint than the default black, and are therefore susceptible to dust contamination. In fact, Dell just dropped a white colour option, said Gruzen, because of quality control problems. “It takes about five coats of paint to get the appearance we were looking for,” he said.

Gruzen also repeated what he and other Dell executives have said before, that backlit LED screens, an option on the M1330, represent another bottleneck. “This relatively limited supply base [of LED suppliers] combined with stronger-than-anticipated demand — the number of orders has simply exceeded our expectations — has contributed to the delays,” said Gruzen.

“Currently, we have worked through about 10 percent of our backlog and will focus on improving this going forward,” he added.

Although several customers commenting on Gruzen’s blog post said they had received their M1330s, the general tone remained angry among buyers, or former buyers. “I ordered my black-cased m1330 in June and it was pushed back to late August, so the whole red-case cock and bull story doesn’t gel at all,” a customer identified as Ya Kathaab wrote today. “I canceled last week.”

Another buyer who said he canceled his M1330 order actually thanked Dell for the delay. “The reason I want to thank Dell is because in the weeks it has taken them to build an m1330 for me, I went and got a[n Apple Inc.] MacBook, and I’d have to say I’m about 90 percent through the portal into MacWorld now,” wrote a customer identified as Paul S. “So, thanks to Dell, I will never again see a ‘Blue Screen of Death,’ nor have to spend hours trying to figure out why some stupid application won’t install or run in Windows.

“This is a valuable service Dell has performed for me. Thanks so much.”

As of Tuesday, the estimated ship date for an XPS M1330 was pegged by Dell’s online ordering system as Aug.29. Pricing for the laptops starts at US$1,299.

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