Lenovo's ThinkPad team optimistic about Windows 8, needs to expand outside notebooks

Lenovo on Monday celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ThinkPad

Lenovo's ThinkPad team plans to release more ultrabook models, and remains "bullish" about the upcoming release of Microsoft's Windows 8, according to company executives, who also said on Monday that the famed PC unit needs to expand further outside its traditional notebook business.

"We are going to keep breaking that barrier, to bring the ThinkPad to the next stage," said Arimasa Naitoh, ThinkPad chief designer. "I'm not saying the ThinkPad clamshell will be replaced. I never think that. But in addition to that, we need to create something more."

Lenovo on Monday marked the 20th anniversary of its ThinkPad product, which was first developed under IBM, but then acquired by the Chinese PC maker in 2005. At a company-sponsored event, executives touted the release of the latest ThinkPad product, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The 14-inch notebook, which has an 8 hour battery life and weighs 1.36kg, will be launched later this month at around US$1,299.

The X1 Carbon is also one of the ThinkPad brand's first ultrabooks, a class of Intel-powered laptop meant to feature thin and light designs with high performance. Despite concerns about the ultrabook's viability given weak sales, the new class of laptops is paving the way to the future, according to Dilip Bhatia, the ThinkPad business unit's general manager.

"Overall, the ultrabook is the right direction. It's the start of the journey, so it's not the destination," he said in an interview with journalists, adding that more aggressive pricing will help improve ultrabook sales. "In general you will see notebooks get thinner, get lighter, have the instant on connected capability. So I'm not worried about it."

The ThinkPad unit is also "excited" about Windows 8, which will be released in October, but expects adoption of the new operating system to be slow among enterprise users, because many companies are still transitioning from Windows XP to Windows 7, Bhatia said.

"I think the area that will help drive the adoption of Windows 8 for the enterprise is the tablet," he said, noting that business customers have expressed a need for the devices. Lenovo has been working on a ThinkPad tablet running the new OS, but Bhatia did not provide a release date.

Arimasa Naitoh, who has been designing ThinkPad notebooks since the first version in 1992, said the business unit has been committed in maintaining its core concepts as part the product's 20 year legacy. Many customers are loyal to the brand, he said, and even questioned the business unit when it was acquired by Lenovo, fearing that major changes would be made to ThinkPad's future.

"I said, 'Please don't worry. ThinkPad will not be changed,'" Naitoh said. "In the past 7 years we demonstrated that by what we did with Lenovo, and we never got the same question again."

But while the ThinkPad unit has continued to maintain its vision for business laptops, Naitoh also stressed the need to innovate beyond just simply adding improvements to its laptops. This includes venturing outside its notebook business, by trying to imagine what technological needs people will have five years from now, he said.

"That's a big question, if I know, I don't tell you," Naitoh said when asked on what those needs were. "To be honest, we still do not know. That's why we have a challenge."

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