Lenovo was not a brand that many people were familiar with outside of China prior to its acquisition of IBM PC division (Think product brand) for $1.75 billion USD in 2005. This bold move by Lenovo to acquire the most well known PC brand name from IBM took many people by surprise. But the sell of the PC division by IBM was to be expected, since IBM was losing lot of money on its PC unit, and they had been devolving from the PC business for a while already, with the sale of printing, keyboard, harddrive and LCD manufacturing units prior to putting the PC business up for sale.
Basically overnight Lenovo grew from a regional tour de force to a global tier one competitor against the likes of Dell, HP and Acer, whom took many years to get where they were in the PC industry. This sudden acqusition of Think brand by Lenovo also eered many people, whom predicted failure of both Lenovo and Think brand from the get go, as Lenovo was seen as a rookie with no prior experience in the global PC business. However, despite the odds the Thinkpad brand did not die off under Lenovo’s care, but rather it grew at a pace faster than anyone would have predicted. This was partly due to the fact that Lenovo kept many of the employees and executives from IBM, to run the show for markets outside of China. Under Lenovo’s watch Thinkpad as a product brand became more relevant to more people, and it actually became affordable to people whom were not on manager or executive salary. However, despite the successes of Lenovo in attracting more consumers to the Thinkpads range, there were still people arguing that Lenovo was not doing enough for the Thinkpad brand in terms of innovation and quality. As such Lenovo management and designers pushed out several line of Thinkpad ‘halo’ products to show that Lenovo was innovative, and it could produce quality ‘bento box shaped’ laptops at various price points for different consumer demographics.
Picture 1. Lenovo ThinkPad Reserve Edition (picture from Lenovo)
The ‘Thinkpad Reserve Edition’ was Lenovo’s first attempt at a Thinkpad halo machine since acquiring the PC business from IBM. Basically with this model Lenovo really aimed at the top tier executives whom may want a haute couture laptop, something different and exclusive that not many other people would have or could afford. Lenovo answered these consumer needs perfectly with the Thinkpad Reserve Edition and like the laptop’s name, it was reserved for a very exclusive customer base. To ensure exclusivity only 5000 of these machines were made available for sale worldwide (each costing around $5,000 dollars), and only Lenovo shortlisted clientèle was eligible to purchase this machine, so not everyone with the dough could just walk into a store and buy them (or order them on the web).
This machine was expensive due to the fact that Lenovo spared no expense in constructing these machines for the lucky few whom were able to get it, much like how Ferrari only allowed a select few to purchase their Enzo and Superamerica models. With the Reserve Edition Lenovo really wanted to woo their well heeled customers with a show of opulence and its quality of workmanship, which i think they did so admirably from the looks of it. The Reserve Edition laptop was basically a fully specced Thinkpad X61s (with slight modification to the external casing design) clad in ‘hand stitched full grain saddle quality French leather’ portfolio casing (it was probably missing a couple Monograms). While, many people would think only idiots would buy this laptop at such a ridiculous price, even if there were only 5000 of them in existence and all of which were clad in French leather. But i guess that those people completely missed the point of this product, some people are willing to pay top dollars for a fashion statements and have something exclusive, this is why haute couture luxury brand exists (think LV, Hermes, Prada, etc). Also, all the extra money these people paid over the standard top spec X61s, also gave them exclusive access to ‘ultra knowledgable’ technician whom would walk them through all the steps involved in setting up their computers to theidesired state. As an added bonus, Lenovo also bundled 3 years 24/7 international warranty support with these laptops, something useful for these executives may want to work out the opportunity cost of purchasing this laptop over a standard X61s with 9 to 5 warranty support services.
Picture 2. Lenovo ThinkPad X300 (picture from Lenovo)
Obviously, this first Lenovo Thinkpad halo product did not trickle down to the masses, and the average joe or jane Thinkpadders wouldn’t have a clue as to what all the fuss was about in the lofty end of the market. Luckily Lenovo wasn’t an one trick pony, as such they were already well into working on the second halo product for Lenovo. Their aim was to produce the thinnest 13.3 inch laptop with an dvd burning optical drive built in. Unfortunately for Lenovo, Apple under Steve Jobs also had something similar in mind, and they took the Macbook Air to market earlier than Lenovo with their ThinkPad X300, which stole the show and thunder from Lenovo’s X300. The unanticipated release of the Macbook Air also forced Lenovo to cut short the development time for ThinkPad X300, and Lenovo had to release it to market on a shortened development schedule, which shows how much of a cut throat business the PC business was (and still is). The ThinkPad X300 like the Macbook Air had thinness and lightness as the main design goals, however Lenovo unlike Apple did not par down on essential features to achieve such thinness. The X300 still had 3 usb 2.0, Gigabit ethernet, vga, mic/headphone and most important of them all a 7 mm ultrabay slot, which you could use for ultrathin dvd burner, an extra bay battery or just a travel bezel insert (which reduces the weight of the machine by another 0.1 kg). Another thing that made the X300 special was its keyboard, which mimicked the key feel of the good old IBM Thinkpad 600x, which was something that many Thinkpad traditionalist loved. Obviously, the thinness and extra features like ultrathin dvd burner, SSD and ultrathin WXGA+ LED backlit 13.3 inch LCD panel did not came cheap (it also used a CFRP/GFRP composite material for lid casing), the X300 retailed at over $2500 USD even for a moderate spec. At that price, Lenovo did not hope to sell too many of these machines (lucky they could even break even), as only top tier corporate and business customers would buy them for their own use (or well heeled Thinkpadders).
Lenovo subsequently killed the X3xx lines after the X301 came to the end of its product lifecycle, due to poor sales and insufficient ROI. While, not many people bought the X30x machines when it was in full production, its demise did bring up a lot of negative customer reactions at Lenovo’s business strategy. However, information soon leaked out from Lenovo in the form of a product map, which showed a new product called the X1. Many people speculated what the X1 was, some guessed it was the new Thinkpad tablet, while other guessed it to be a 10 inch X series machine, some even thought it was a new Smartphone. Finally it was revealed in late March of 2011 that this was the new Thinkpad halo machine, which picked up from where X30x sort of left off.
Picture 3. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (from Lenovo).
The new X1 thinkpads was a game changer for Lenovo, not only did it have to appease the Thinkpad traditionalists, but at the same time it had to be relevant to new customers whom may want more modern stylings (i.e. Apple MBP type of design cues) in their bento box laptops. As such, Lenovo design team had draw on other design elements from competitor’s top selling models and incorporate it into a casing design that paid homage to the traditional ThinkPads. Basically, the new ThinkPad X1 was an interpretation on what a modern ThinkPad should look like in a form that is as attractive to the potential Macbook Pro buyers as it is to a traditional ThinkPad user. Also, it was priced at a level that was competitive against the competitors’ equivalent ultrathin 13.3 inch laptops, which representated another significant drop in price from X300 when it was first released.
- ThinkPad Reserve Edition -> $5000 approximately
- ThinkPad X30x -> $2500 approximately
- ThinkPad X1 -> $1290 approximately
Personally speaking after using the ThinkPad X1 for a few days, the design and functionality of the X1 did grow on me quite a bit (obviously there are also quirks that irks me), so much so it have become my daily work machine for now. If you are interested in reading more about the X1 machine, please have a read of my X1 blog review.