Is Dell's Ophelia USB Stick Cloud Computer The End of An Era?

Amid a precarious PC market and rumors that Dell is looking to revert back to becoming a privately-held company as opposed to a publicly-traded one (which it is currently), the company somewhat quietly announced “Project Ophelia”, a potentially game-changing device that is essentially a computer/cloud client on a stick.

The little device is slightly larger than your basic USB flash drive and can connect to (and be powered by) any USB-capable display, even a television. It offers users quick and secure access to documents and applications, games, music, video, and email; put another way, the device “also allows business users to instantly turn a display into a flexible, securely managed, communications-enabled thin client for work, demos or presentations”,or so says the Dell press release.

Dell Project Ophelia
Project Ophelia USB stick, with glasses for scale

Project Ophelia is built on “Android 4” (it’s unclear exactly which version), and it supports WiFi and Bluetooth for communication and connection to wireless peripheral devices. It’s basically the smallest thin client ever, and indeed it’s compatible with many of Dell Wyse thin clients.

Ophelia solves several problems, including the IT nightmare of BYOD and the need to have a screen attached to your mobile device. This is truly mobile computing, but in a completely different paradigm--one that is ideal for the enterprise environment.

Dell HQ
Dell HQ in Round Rock, Texas

Project Ophelia will also be able to run virtual instances of just about any operating system, including Windows, Mac, Google Chrome OS, and custom cloud software. The device could cost as little as $50.

Although it may seem bizarre for a PC maker like Dell to create something so defiantly unPC-like, it actually makes loads of sense. The PC market is rife with competition, not just between vendors, but also with other markets that are cannibalizing sales; the mobile market, for example, is enjoying supernova-level explosive growth. However, Dell has a very large enterprise business going, including an expansive cloud portfolio, and Ophelia would rely entirely on those solutions. That’s an end-around on the competition if we’ve ever seen it.

We’ll be the first to say that the PC is far from dead, but even so, Dell may be smart to cash out sooner rather than later. Dell has already been clear about its exit from the smartphone business, and although it would be a huge deal if the company left the PC business (as we know it), it’s not outside the realm of possibility. If Ophelia really takes off when it launches in the next few months, Dell might look like a very different kind of company by this time next year.