Ahead of this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, Lenovo announced a refreshed series of ThinkPad laptops with features designed to appeal more broadly to the consumer market. In addition to the new ultrathin ThinkPad X100e and the AMD-processor-powered ThinkPad Edge, the company’s classic ThinkPad line has been expanded by four models.
While the ThinkPad line’s traditional target has been the enterprise and small-to-midsize business (SMB) audience, Lenovo spokespeople told eWEEK ahead of CES that the new laptops are designed to capitalize on the blurring of the traditional lines between business and consumer devices. According to the company’s publicly stated thinking, more and more users are taking their laptops from a strictly business context and using them for personal applications; consequently, the new designs include not only hardware capable of running business processes, but also aesthetic features intended to put a Lenovo laptop in the same context as more consumer-oriented products from other manufacturers.
The SMB market is perhaps where this business-consumer line is blurred most for users, and the ThinkPad Edge series, which includes 13-, 14- and 15-inch models, is designed to capitalize on this. The first ThinkPad laptop with an AMD dual-core processor option, devices in the Edge line also feature a redesigned keyboard with enlarged keys and one-push access to multimedia functions. Mainframe-oriented keys such as System Request have also been removed, allowing the overall keyboard to be slimmer despite the expansion in individual key size.
Besides glossy and matte black, ThinkPad Edge laptops will be offered in “heatwave red.” Lenovo rates the devices’ battery life at 8 hours. The 13-inch ThinkPad Edge retails for $549 and is available now; the 14- and 15-inch versions will be available in the second quarter of 2010.
Lenovo also announced the ThinkPad X100e, a device it terms “the company’s first professional-grade ultraportable laptop.” Powered by either the AMD Athlon Neo single- and dual-core processors, or else a Turion dual-core processor, the ThinkPad X100e starts at less than three pounds in weight and comes with an 11.6-inch high-definition display. Connectivity comes courtesy of 802.11n Wi-Fi, as well as optional Bluetooth and 3G. Prices start at below $500.
The manufacturer is also introducing four new models to its original ThinkPad line, including the T410s, T410, T510 and W510. These devices will offer Intel dual-core processors, Lenovo’s redesigned keyboard and expanded touchpad, and up to 22 hours of battery life in some cases.
Lenovo’s new devices and revamped ThinkPad line could serve as a forward indicator of sorts for the types of devices that will make their debut early in 2010. Indeed, the new year sees many PC manufacturers in something of a quandary: Although the popularity of netbooks represented the one bright spot in an otherwise moribund PC sales environment in 2009, those devices’ cheap prices and lower margins could goad the industry in 2010 to offer new products with netbooks’ ultraportability and connectivity at a somewhat higher price point.
The ThinkPad X100e seems to be a step in this particular direction, with a larger screen and more powerful processor than many standard-issue netbooks.
More robust ultraportables could also help software creators. In comments at Microsoft’s annual Financial Analyst Meeting on July 30, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer indicated that the software giant would work with PC manufacturers to produce new “ultrathin” PCs that would provide lightweight computing and a higher cost. Ultrathins with more powerful processors would presumably be capable of running versions of Windows 7 that offer Microsoft higher margins.
“We want people to be able to get the advantages of lightweight performance and be able to spend more money with us” in addition to various manufacturers, Ballmer told the assembled analysts at the time. Presumably, other software makers-not just Microsoft-would benefit from an ecosystem of powerful ultraportables.