A code name for a product in development says a lot about a vendor’s intentions.
In the case of the ThinkPad X300, which went on sale Feb. 26, Lenovo used the code name “Kodachi” for the new laptop. The word describes a sleek, thin Japanese sword that falls between a full-length blade and a dagger.
With the ThinkPad X300, customers can expect a sleek, thin laptop with a 13.3-inch display that falls somewhere between a full-size notebook and the number of subnotebooks and ultraportable models that have entered the market in the last few years.
It’s too soon to tell if the X300 will change the way vendors approach notebook design. However, the fact that this new ThinkPad, which offers a range of cutting-edge features from a 64GB solid-state drive, a 7-millimeter optical DVD drive and a less than 1-inch-thick design, comes to the market at the same time as the ultrathin Apple MacBook Air seems to demonstrate the types of designs OEMs might have in mind for future generations of portable, yet durable, notebooks.
While the MacBook Air and the X300 share similar features and design specifications, Roger Kay, an analyst with EndPoint Technologies Associates, said it’s not fair to compare the two notebooks feature by feature. The X300 is geared toward enterprise users and business executives on the go, while the Air is mainly designed for consumers.
With those differences in mind, Kay and other analysts say Lenovo, as well as Apple, is taking a hard look at 13-inch screens as a way to bridge the gap between 12-inch subnotebooks and full-size notebooks with 14- or 15-inch screens.
“If there’s one part of it that is a game changer it’s that the form factor is lean and mean,” Kay said. “With the 12-inch-wide model, it always feels a little small. With the 13-inch, it’s a little more generous.”
Redefining the Ultraportable
The MacBook Air and the X300 are redefining what an ultraportable or subnotebook is, said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC.
According to the research firm, ultraportable notebooks are laptops with 12-inch displays and weigh about 4 pounds, which means that the Lenovo and Apple notebooks fall somewhere between ultraportable and full-size laptops.
Right now, these ultraportable laptops as IDC defines them comprise about 10 percent of the worldwide notebook market. While that number has remained stagnant, this new crop of laptops could push that percentage up if customers embrace these new PCs.
“These could redefine the ultraportable market, and that might mean that other manufacturers would want to go after that space,” Shim said. “The challenge of this market is to get to the right weight without sacrificing things like screen size and performance. In this case, Lenovo and Apple have not made that sacrifice.”
Overall, notebooks remain the hottest part of the PC market, and several research firms believe that laptop shipments will overtake desktop shipments this year. By the end of 2008, IDC predicts notebooks will account for about 54.6 percent of U.S. PC shipments, while desktops will account for 45.4 percent.
With the potential for such significant gains, OEMs are increasingly looking for ways to distinguish their products from the competition. While some vendors look to slash prices to create market share, Lenovo and Apple are looking to pack as many new features into the notebook as possible and hope that customers are willing to pay a premium for a cutting-edge system.
However, several analysts said the one main drawback to the ThinkPad X300 is the price.
At a base price of $2,800, it might take some time for the X300 to hit the mainstream. Kay said the price of flash memory will drop later this year, which should make the ThinkPad’s SSD much more affordable and will reduce the overall price of the laptop.
John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the ThinkPad X300 and the MacBook Air represent the cutting edge of what is possible with notebook design. When it comes to enterprise computing, Spooner said the new ThinkPad will fit in with Lenovo’s other offerings.
“When you look at what top executives use, the ThinkPad has owned this category, especially when you look at the other products in the X series,” he said. “This notebook is a step forward, and it gives users the capabilities of a full [Intel processor] and the optical drive and other features. It captures the essence of what a person who flies a million miles needs.”