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."