IBM Eyes Notebook Novelty

Company designers demo 2 prototypes.

IBM is drafting designs for new notebook PCs that take innovative approaches to easing space constraints while expanding the form factor.

The company showed nonworking prototypes of two notebooks last week at the TechXNY conference here, designed with the evolving usage habits of mobile users in mind, said company officials. Key to the concept prototypes, which IBM calls "explorations," is the notion that notebooks are being used in a variety of ways and environments but that ultimately theyre winding up on the desktop.

"The purpose of these explorations was to try and figure out whats the next turn of the crank" in notebooks, said David Hill, director of design at IBMs Personal Systems Group, in Research Triangle Park, N.C. "Is it a fold-up desktop and an expandable notebook?"

For inspiration in their design work, Hill and IBM Distinguished Engineer John Karidis, who developed IBMs ThinkPad 501 with the expandable butterfly keyboard, once again turned to Japanese culture.

"The simple Japanese bento box was the original influence for the ThinkPad," Hill said. "We wanted to take that inspiration further, folding things in unique ways that make sense."

And thus was born the unit known internally as Origami, named after the Japanese art of paper folding. The Origami opens like a normal notebook. But unique to this system, the display can be raised several inches for better viewing. When the screen is raised, the keyboard automatically slides forward toward the user and rests at a typing angle more akin to a desktop keyboard.

While the Origami unit IBM showed here was not a working model, the prototype included a 14-inch display. Functional units could house larger displays, Karidis said.

And to be sure, Karidis said, "there will always be trade-offs." The prototype would add 0.1 inch to the thickness of the newest ThinkPad T40 and less than a pound to its overall weight, and it could be 5 to 10 percent more expensive, he said.

The second prototype notebook, which is not code-named, plays to even greater desktop sensitivities. When opened, its screen can also be raised. But unlike the Origami, the second units keyboard is detachable and wireless, providing a more comparable desktop experience.

Both systems have been in development for more than a year and would take approximately another year for the company to productize them, Hill said.