A trial balloon
Thus the ThinkPad Z Series is a trial balloon, in some respects, said sources familiar with Lenovos plans. Its widescreen should appeal to both businessesa wide screen format allows a machine to display two spreadsheet pages side-by-side, for exampleand consumers, who might use it to watch DVD movies.Despite ThinkPads corporate roots and the Z Series small business aim, Lenovo will also expect to see some consumers purchase the machine as well.Its already been courting small businesses and consumers business in other ways, including with its pricing. The company has aggressively priced some of its Think machines of late, offering a ThinkPad R Series model for a starting price of $599, via its Web site. Its also offering free shipping on its PCs and accessories, purchased via the site. Click here to read more about Lenovos work with business customers. Given its goals, the consumer market is vital for Lenovos future. Its "what Lenovo brings to the table," said Richard Shim, analyst with International Data Corp. "IBM had the enterprise products and the brand name, and that helps to establish credibility. But, from a growth standpoint, [Lenovo] is stuck in a battle with two of the biggest names in the business. For Lenovo to gain an edge, one would have to stumble, and it doesnt look like thats going to happen." Thus Lenovo will put to use its consumer smartsit offers several lines of stylish desktops and notebooks in Chinaand it "will come out with more innovative designs, designs you wouldnt have seen from the old IBM," Shim said. The new consumer PC line, which is likely to make its debut next year, is sure to be offered in the United States as well as higher-growth international markets such as Brazil, India and Russia. The company, which has said it is intent on keeping a hybrid distribution model, is expected to start selling its new consumer machines direct at first. But its likely to enter retail in some capacity in the future as well. Lenovo already operates its own retail stores in China. It works with partners to sell Think-brand computers in ThinkWorld stores in India. It has also trademarked the term ThinkStore in the U.S. However, the company says it has no plans to erect stores in the United States. Instead, ThinkStore might be used for its online efforts or possibly for retail kiosks. "We have no current plans to open retail outlets in the U.S.," said Lenovo spokesman Ray Gorman, in an e-mail. "We will continue to evaluate the best ways to reach our customers and will continue with successful hybrid strategy of selling through channel partners and direct sales." However, Lenovo has tested what it calls "information kiosks" in a few markets, Gorman said in the e-mail. The kiosks only displayed the Think products. Customers were instead directed to channel partners or Lenovo direct sales. Gorman declined to discuss future products or marketing strategies, however. As Lenovo is preparing to take the next step, "Its in good shape as far as that goes," said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. But, going forward, "It needs to execute very cleanly in the next while to promote whatever Lenovos international brand is, to move Lenovo out of China into the rest of the world, to sustain the Think [brand] equity and keep existing enterprise customersand expand that base a bitand to achieve world class cost structures so that it can fight the good fight [on price] with Dell and HP." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news in desktop and notebook computing.