Dell may launch a portable device five years too late

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The Apple (AAPL) iPod was launched in 2001. The Microsoft (MSFT) Zune has been available for almost half a decade. Over that period a number of consumer electronics companies have come to market with small handhelds that connect to 3G and WiFi signals. The market for these products is getting remarkably crowded.

Dell (DELL), late to the game, is considering releasing a pocket device of its own. The Wall Street Journal reports that the product will run Google's (GOOG) Android operating system for portable devices.

Dell's single largest strategic mistake is that, as it has lost global market share in the PC business, it did not build a presence in the rapidly growing business of ultra-portable computing and multimedia devices. That accounts, at least in part, for the sharp drop in the company's share price, especially in contrast to stocks of its most successful competitors.

What will distinguish Dell's product? Probably very little. Android-based products are already in the market and more are coming quickly. Products from BlackBerry devices to iPhones to ultra-light PCs are driving sales for Dell's competitors.

Dell is getting into the portable market -- finally. But it's about half a decade too late.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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