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During CES 2018, I was fortunate enough to spend half an hour in the company of Justin Lyles, Vice President of Consumer Design at Dell: the man in charge of development of the Dell XPS 13. While we talked about everything from the use of particular materials to logos to the birth of the XPS 13 design, it was our three-minute chat about the webcam that stood out.
He explained that his initial plan was to have the “Infinite Display” stretching from left to right, with a normal-sized bezel at the top. Then in the next generation, the top bezel would disappear, at which point they’d work out what to do with the webcam.
However, when he showed the plans to Ray Wah, the man then in charge of Dell’s consumer products, he got so excited by the next-gen plans that he pushed for those to happen straight away. So what to do with the webcam?
“We chose at the time to take that risk to focus on the border and the small sides of the product as being a higher value priority than actually the webcam placement,” said Lyles. “Some users do use the webcam, it’s very important, but not all users use the webcam. All users deal with the size of the product.
“We’ve been chasing that ever since, shrinking the camera smaller, talking about our options – every generation we want to get it back top, the technology for cameras hasn’t got small enough to where the border is for our liking.”
The obvious follow-up question is when that development might happen, and initially Lyle’s response isn’t encouraging. “When the camera gets down to 2mm, 1.5mm, we’ll absolutely throw it back up top.”
With a standard webcam being around 6mm, that gulf seems huge, but Lyle points to a future – based on what’s already happening in mobile phone development – where “a small, small camera, either at the top of product or through the display in some magical way becomes viable.”
One thing’s for sure: Dell is desperate to move the webcam back to its rightful position, if only to stop the negative feedback from reviewers in every iteration of the XPS 13. “We truly want to get it back to the top. We just don’t want to go from 4mm [the current size of the bezel] to something larger.”
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