Dell Introduces an iClone

New smartphone looks awfully familiar

Can you say Apple envy?

Dell's new smartphone, the Mini 3, looks an awful lot like Apple's iPhone. Under the hood, the Mini 3 runs Google's Android operating system -- but with its rows of icons and touchscreen interface, it will be hard for the casual user to see the distinction.

The new phone will initially be sold overseas in Brazil and China. But the FCC recently certified a version of the phone for the U.S. market -- apparently designed to run on AT&T's network.

You know, like the iPhone.

If it looks like a desperate catchup move, that's because it is. Dell thrived in the '90s as a cheap assembler of customized PCs. Leaving the user interface of its machines to Microsoft, it focused on the buying experience -- one of the few ways a PC maker could distinguish itself from the competition.

A gloating Michael Dell, the company's founder, said in 1997 that Apple should close up shop and return its cash to shareholders.

A decade later, Apple's market capitalization surged past Dell's. And thanks in large part to sales of the iPhone, Apple is now worth six times as much as Dell.

Will the Mini 3 change that? Apple shares usually leap on the introduction of new products. Dell's shares dropped Friday after the Mini's introduction.

Dell has $12 billion in cash -- 40 percent of its market capitalization. Maybe Michael Dell should just give up on copying Apple and return that to shareholders?

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