Lenovo Looks Beyond PCs Into an AI Future

Officials said the PC business will turn around, but at Tech World, the company shows off its future in an intelligent, mobile and connected world.

Lenovo Daystar

The same week that Lenovo officials were mapping out the company’s future in the emerging artificial intelligence market, they also were promising that its cornerstone PC business will rebound in the coming fiscal year.

At its third annual Tech World show July 20 in Shanghai, the vendor unveiled an augmented reality (AR) headset—the daystAR (pictured)—and the SmartCast+ smart speaker and projector that will rival such devices as Amazon’s Echo. At the same time, in an interview with Reuters during the show, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing said that the company’s PC business—Lenovo was overtaken this year by rival HP Inc. as the world’s top PC vendor—will return to positive growth, that the overall global PC market will stabilize and that Lenovo officials were still in negotiations with Fujitsu to integrate their PC businesses.

In his keynote at Tech World, Yang noted the company’s efforts to bolster its traditional PC efforts while extending its reach into the fast-growing artificial intelligence (AI) space.

“Lenovo has been well-known as a PC leader,” the CEO said, according to a transcript of the keynote. “In the future, we will continue to focus on PCs, but not just on personal computers, also focusing on personal computing devices. We will add wings of connectivity, personal cloud, to existing devices such as smartphones. And we will develop new devices that can deliver content and services with interactive technology like natural-language interactions and AR/VR [virtual reality], etc.”

Lenovo became a major PC player more than a decade ago when it bought IBM’s PC business for $1.75 billion, and several years ago it overtook then-Hewlett-Packard as the world’s top PC vendor in a contracting market. In 2014, Lenovo spent a combined $5 billion to buy IBM’s x86 server business and the Motorola handset business from Google. Motorola in particular has been a struggle for Lenovo and a drain on its finances.

To shore up its financial numbers, Lenovo has shed some of the low-cost PCs that in the past had helped grow shipment numbers, a move that helped HP retake the top spot. For the fiscal year that ended March 31, PC shipments fell 1 percent, to 55.7 million units, the company said in May.

However, in his keynote, Yang noted that with its PCs, servers and mobile device businesses, the company has everything in place—from the front-end devices to the back-end infrastructure—as the industry moves toward a more mobile and connected world. He said the company will be able to deliver what he called “personalized computing + personalized cloud.”

“At that time, device and cloud will be more closely integrated together to provide us with intelligent services that cover from perception to cognition,” Yang said. “Smart devices will be able to see, hear, talk and proactively and intelligently learn each user’s behaviors based on the historical big data to better provide the services you need.

“For the back end, we will build a more intelligent ‘Infrastructure + cloud’ with software-defined data centers and satisfy the different computing demands from traditional enterprises, internet companies, scientific computing and applications of artificial intelligence.”

He said that with its “broad product portfolio of smart devices, powerful infrastructures and intelligent cloud computing, Lenovo has a unique advantage that covers all elements of this intelligent transformation.”

The daystAR AR headset comes with an independent “vision processing unit” and a 40-degree field of view and hooks into Lenovo’s AR platform, which will enable developers to build applications for it, according to company officials. There is no release date for the system, which is in the concept stage.

Along with SmartCast+, Lenovo officials also introduced a virtual assistant called Cava that uses face recognition, natural language technologies and deep-learning techniques to manage calendar events; the SmartVest intelligent clothing garment that uses 10 built-in sensors to monitor cardiac activity, record ECG signals and find abnormalities; and the Xiaole AI platform for creating personalized and customized user experiences.

In a post on the company blog, Yong Rui, senior vice president and CTO at Lenovo, wrote the company was investing heavily in AI, people, structures—such as its Artificial Intelligence Lab, which launched in March—technologies and partnerships.