Lenovo Accelerate: A Close Look at the Future of Laptops

TREND ANALYSIS: One of the development efforts that isn’t as obvious is one that is also multivendor, but no one is really talking about it yet. That is the head-mounted display.

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Lenovo.foldable.screen

At Lenovo Accelerate this past week, the company announced the first foldable screen notebook, advancements in notebook covers, an automated privacy screen and one other interesting trend—or soon to be trend—that wasn’t as obvious. Let me explain.

Foldable Device

Of course, the biggest and most obvious part of this announcement was the OLED foldable screen. What makes this screen very interesting is that it lacks the faults that we saw in the Samsung phone effort in that it lays flat when open (you really can’t see the crease), and the plastic protective layer is integrated and not just stuck on. The earlier Samsung devices largely failed because testers thought the protective plastic layer was intended to be removed, not realizing that removal would cause the screen to fail.  

Now what I find interesting about the Samsung and the Lenovo efforts is that they initially seemed to go the wrong way. Samsung’s phone becomes a hard-to-hold tablet/phone when it is unfolded, and the Lenovo effort shrinks the PC down into almost a smartphone size when folded—but it doesn’t actually become a smartphone.

What if the Samsung had folded down to shrink in size to what was a very popular design before the smartphone (a flip phone), and Lenovo opened up into something that had a 20-inch screen instead? Folding the phone down would better protect the screen and would make the phone easier to hold on your shoulder and carry while not compromising its use as a phone. Starting the laptop at 10 inches or 13 inches would give you a 20-inch to 26-inch screen in line with a monitor when unfolded and make the result far more useful than a 13-inch notebook currently is for productivity workers.

Granted this would reduce its use as an eBook in the upper-size range, but it would be amazing for most of us who struggle with the loss of our large monitors while mobile.

Leather/Exposed Carbon Fiber

Lenovo is the second vendor this decade to wrap a laptop in leather, after HP Inc. With two data points, you arguably get a trend. I’m surprised it took so long with this one because, with all-day battery life, the ability to leave your backpack behind and just live with the notebook is far greater than it has ever been. However, the typical plastics and metal uses with most notebooks make them relatively slippery to hold and uncomfortable to carry. Leather changes this and enhances the ability for the device to be used as a tablet or eBook, something that is seldom done with existing metal or plastic laptops.

I recently put a Toast leather cover on my Microsoft Surface Book, and it made the device far easier to carry alone and far more likely to be chosen over a smaller and normally more portable alternative.

If you look at how carbon fiber is used in most cars, you’ll see the weave is generally exposed, giving the vehicle a distinct high-technology look. However, while it has been used in laptops, it is generally covered up, so you don’t get that impression. Lenovo highlighted a laptop with a far more automotive-like carbon fiber finish, and it is the first (that I know of) to bring this finish to market (though I also know others are working on this).  

Automated Privacy Screen

I’m a huge advocate of privacy screens because many embarrassing breaches come from people who can see what a user is writing. I’ve sat next to people on planes and observed things that I shouldn’t have seen, and I know that, while I work, people sitting next to me have seen things that were confidential as well. HP Inc. largely led the recent movement toward electronic privacy screens, and its latest such screen was the most efficient and least annoying of the lot.

However, Lenovo announced an improvement to the HP solution in that it includes a feature that will automatically trigger the screen when anyone who isn’t you attempts to view it. All privacy screens reduce screen brightness and battery life, so folks often default them off. If someone starts viewing your screen, you may not notice. So, a feature that automatically triggers the screen when the PC notices an illicit viewer not only protects the data but alerts the user that someone is attempting to view it.

This is a significant improvement that I expect other vendors will adopt reasonably quickly, but, right now, Lenovo appears to stand alone with it.  

Head-Mounted Displays

One of the development efforts that isn’t as obvious is one that is also multivendor, but no one is really talking about it yet. That is the head-mounted display. We are dancing around with products like Microsoft’s HoloLens and Lenovo’s new HoloLens lite ThinkReality solution, but no one has yet released a focused product. You see, with these AR/VR efforts, we are getting very high-resolution small displays that can be used for a variety of things. One is a simple head-mounted display that replaces the laptop screen entirely and gives users the potential to have a virtual monitor in the 50-inch range without having to carry around something the size of a decent-sized flat-screen TV.

Within the next 12 months, I expect to see a number of these enter the market, and they could be as, or more, disruptive as the foldable displays we started with.

Wrapping Up

I think we are seeing the beginning of an effort to completely rethink laptops and tablets—moving from 2-in-1s to foldables that could become 3-in-1s when they consume either desktop computers or smartphones, depending on size. In fact, if we move to head-mounted displays, we could see wearable computers break out of their niche and create the opportunity for a single personal device that makes smartphones, tablets and existing PCs obsolete. This would also effectively address the screen security problem, just as privacy screens also become smarter. Of course, the resulting products may increasingly be wrapped with leather or real carbon fiber that looks like carbon fiber, making them more comfortable to carry as well as far more attractive.

Lenovo again showcased that, while the future for the PC is bright, it is also going to be very, very different. Viva la difference!