Michael Dell Met With Blackstone This Week


By Ian Sherr and Sharon Terlep

Dell Inc.’s Chief Executive Michael Dell met this week with Blackstone Group LP as the private-equity firm pieces together a plan to take control of the computer maker, people familiar with the matter said.

It is unclear who Mr. Dell met with at Blackstone or how the discussions went. Mr. Dell didn’t respond to a request for comment and Blackstone declined to comment.

Separately, a special committee of Dell board members is expected on Friday to release a lengthy proxy statement that will paint a dire picture of the company and explain why Dell thought a $24.4 billion buyout bid from private-equity firm Silver Lake Partners and Mr. Dell was the best offer it would get, according to people who have reviewed the document.



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(Published March 28, 2013, in the Wall Street Journal.)

Apple, on Defense, Slams Samsung


By Ian Sherr and Jessica E. Lessin

Apple Inc. is on the defensive.

In a rare interview a day before Samsung Electronics Co.’s launch of a new flagship smartphone, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller on Wednesday played down the expected competition from the device. He also discussed how he believes products that run Google Inc.’s Android software, such as Samsung’s phone, are inferior to Apple’s iPhone.

Mr. Schiller shared data on the iPhone’s popularity and said Apple’s own research shows that four times as many iPhone users switched from an Android phone than to an Android phone in the fourth quarter.

His remarks come as Apple has been gently suggesting similar messages in recent months as competitors such as Samsung have been gaining buzz—and market share.

Mr. Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of world-wide marketing, also said that Android users are often running old operating systems and that the fragmentation in the Android world was “plain and simple.”

He added that “Android is often given as a free replacement for a feature phone and the experience isn’t as good as an iPhone.”

The executive said the Android devices suffer in part because different elements come from multiple companies, whereas Apple is responsible for all its mobile hardware and as well as its iOS operating system.

“When you take an Android device out of the box, you have to sign up to nine accounts with different vendors to get the experience iOS comes with,” he said. “They don’t work seamlessly together.”



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(Published March 14, 2013, in the Wall Street Journal.)

Drive Into the Future: Your car knows a lot about you. And it’s talking.


By Ian Sherr and Mike Ramsey

Ford Motor Co. wants to read car buyers’ minds.

A fantasy? Maybe. But by mashing together large databases and analytical algorithms, the Dearborn, Mich.-based auto maker may have achieved the next best thing.

About three years ago, Ford began offering a system to dealerships that reads the dealer’s inventory, checks national and local supplies of vehicles, interprets buying trends and makes recommendations about what vehicles the dealer should stock—for example, three Ford Fusions with blue paint and specific types of engines.

The result has been significant. Ford vehicles are sitting on lots for fewer weeks, and the prices consumers are paying are rising. The increase in “net pricing,” or the price a consumer pays minus a subsidy from the manufacturer, has been a driving force behind Ford’s big surge in profitability.

“Making sure the inventory matches what the customer is looking for is really critical,” says John Ginder, manager of system analytics and environmental sciences in Ford’s research and advanced engineering division. “The dealer makes a major investment every time he or she orders a vehicle—there is a long lead time in getting a vehicle, and if the vehicle is ordered in a fashion not popular with customers, it can sit on the lot for months.”




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(Published March 7, 2013, in the Wall Street Journal.)