This week, I was in New York for a Dell Monitor event and realized we really don’t talk about peripherals that much anymore, which is kind of weird, given that they remain a primary way we interface with technology at work. Most of us have mice that likely have more dead skin cells on them than the plastic they were made from, keyboards where several keys just don’t seem to work right thanks to spills and dirt, and monitors that are well behind the times in terms of ergonomics, performance, safety and wire management.
I’m not like that myself, as I use a custom-made AZIO mechanical keyboard, I swap out mice at least once a year, and my go-to monitor is a Dell 43” beast that was designed for trading floor use. The sad thing about this monitor is that I find I’ve become so wedded to it that I don’t like to work from a laptop anymore and, instead of working outside by the river that flows behind my house, I stay in my office. This massive screen real-estate allows me to be far more productive and the drag of a smaller screen is so annoying I’ve traded off working outside to avoid it.
Like me, millennials appear to be far more focused on hardware quality as well. For instance:
Millennial Intern Study
This really wasn’t an official study, but I needed to name it something. What happened was one of the most powerful firms in the U.S., one that dominates its industry (but doesn’t want me to share its name) recruited nine highly qualified interns for a high-profile project. The Interns were so impressive during the execution of this project that all of them got job offers, really nice job offers. None of them accepted, which really surprised the firm’s management. Here it was, a power firm, with a massively popular brand, dominant in its industry, and the project was important and fun, yet those on it didn’t want to work for the firm.
The reason they collectively gave was that they were given seven-year-old laptops to work with and they didn’t want to work for a firm that gave them crappy hardware. Right now, a lot of firms are struggling to meet hiring targets and are competing for the best and brightest that the educational institutions generate. But these young adults know they are valued, want the best tools to advance their own careers, want to enjoy their new jobs, and will choose firms based on not only salary and benefits, but how well the firm equips them.
Monitors and Trends
Dell is the dominant provider of monitors. Kirk Schell, who runs the unit at Dell, is not only one of its most experienced executives, but he tends to get the resources his peers at competing firms don’t. This allows him to create more complete lines and get marketing support for them, the combination of which helps assure Dell’s number-one position.
As a result, you can often look to Dell monitors and see trends that other firms will eventually emulate. One of the trends identified in Dell’s current line is the use of USB-C as a primary monitor interface, with built-in charging. In Dell’s line, this means that monitors under 30” generally will support 65-watt charging and, with one 100-watt exception, monitors over 30” with USB-C will support 95-watt charging. Given that we purchase laptops with the idea that they’ll remain in service from three to seven years, this would suggest favoring laptops with USB-C charging for the longest service life going forward.
The big advantage to a USB-C connection is a single cable connection from the laptop to the monitor, which is then used as the primary hub for peripherals. This cleans up the desktop a lot, which is important given the trend to shrink or eliminate cubicles.
One of the industries most aggressive with regard to monitor advancement is the financial industry, particularly for traders. This industry appears to be driving much of the change and Dell showcased a variety of configurations with both multi-monitor and multi-PC (the 43” monitor I use will support multiple PCs, for instance).
Other efforts include higher monitor color accuracy, the beginning of a move from 4K to 8K at the high end, the elimination of built-in cameras in monitors (which aren’t practical in multi-monitor rigs), and the move to larger monitors that replace two or more standalone products. While there was a move to put better speakers in monitors, right now I’m seeing a move for better noise-cancelling headphones instead, thanks to the move to more open plan office spaces and away from cubicles.
Wrapping Up: PCs and Monitors Are Force Multipliers
Tools, by their nature, are force multipliers. Back before the last industrial revolution, craftsmen often had their own custom tools, but, for some reason, outside of engineers and workstations, PCs often aren’t treated in the same way. This is clearly changing, with millennials taking the lead in terms of demanding tools that best enhance their productivity, image, and appreciation for the company that employs them.
Back when I worked for Siemens, I watched as the firm suffered by providing out-of-date workstations to engineers. At the time, we were experiencing an unsustainable 200 percent annual engineer turnover, largely due to the fact that the engineers hated the workstations they were given. One of the reasons I left a prior job was because they took away my current generation hardware and replaced it with three-year-old crap after a merger. Life is too short to have to deal with an employer that doesn’t value equipping its employees properly. And in a market where there aren’t enough qualified people to get work done, this lack of worker respect could cripple a firm’s ability to attract and keep top employees critical to that firm’s execution.
PCs and peripherals are force multipliers and crimping on them reduces the job satisfaction, loyalty and efficiency of the workforce. Millennials are forcing firms to rethink their more budget-focused strategies, and Dell is clearly benefiting from this change and showcasing where the future is taking us. Bigger monitors with higher resolution, higher color accuracy, better cable management, and USB-C are the near-term future. Long term, well, some changes are coming with head-mounted displays, transparent panels, and curves that we’ll talk about later. I expect Dell will be at the forefront of these changes as well and we will be revisiting this topic soon.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+