The Adamo is clean. Unlike almost every other Windows laptop you can buy, it has no "Designed for Windows" or "Intel Inside" stickers glued to the palm rest. Turn it over, and instead of a jigsaw puzzle of FCC approval stickers, serial number tags, and Microsoft certifications, there's a metal builder's plate with Dell, Intel, and Microsoft logos subtly printed on it. There's even a special magnetic cover hiding a required licensing sticker.
Designing the labels off a laptop is an aesthetic triumph, and it's apparently not so easy. I talked to Gregor Berkowitz at the design firm Moto about product labels. He's worked on the label problem, and told me that at most manufacturers, engineering and expediency hold sway over design, and the certifications and requirements for labeling just pile up. Engineers and product managers send labeling requests in piecemeal, and that's how they end up on the products: stuck on, one at a time.
At the design-driven Apple, obviously, things are different. Berkowitz said that label requirements are collected by a team responsible for keeping the product clean and true to its visual concept. The information that needs to go on the outside of the case is reviewed and whittled down to the bare minimum, in time for it to be engraved onto the box in a consistent typeface in the faintest possible way.
For the Adamo, Dell borrowed this idea, but had some Windows-specific challenges to meet. In particular, Dell's John New told me, Microsoft requires that the Windows Certificate of Authenticity sticker can't be replaced by a monochrome etching, and must be accessible to the end user without the use of tools to see it. For most machines, that means a sticker on the bottom of the product. For the Adamo, though, a magnetic coverplate behind the Adamo's screen hides the COA (and also the FCC certification). This cover also hides a few service screws, but its main purpose, and the reason it is magnetic, is to meet the letter of Microsoft's sticker law while still keeping the laptop free from unsightly badges.
Labels of the world
I asked New why other Windows laptops aren't clean like this. New said that some laptops, like Dell's Latitude line, are designed with standard configurations that ship to multiple countries. To cover all the bases, Dell's regulatory affairs team makes sure that products like this have every label for every country's laws. In contrast, consumer build-to-order laptops like the Adamo can be labeled with just the bare minimum. (Apple's Macbooks have numerous certifications and notifications printed on them, but in tiny, monochome type.)
Dell's investment in Adamo design doesn't mean we'll be seeing magnetic coverplates on $400 Netbooks soon. New said Dell worked with Intel and Microsoft to get them to relax their marketing requirements for the Adamo in particular. "We went to extra effort, working with our partners," he said. "They recognized the need for the design."
Although Dell is investing in design and doing what it can to keep its laptops free from extraneous visual distractions, design comes at a cost, and for the moment, only high-end products like the Adamo, "a fashion accessory that computes," as New puts it, get the extra-special de-labeling treatment.