Too many options can be a problem
I love Lenovo. To be clear, I love Lenovo an appropriate amount – just as much as I love Asus, Acer, and most other laptop manufacturers. Now that I’ve headed off any accusations of journalistic bias, let me tell you what I don’t love: the sheer variety of laptop designs on the Lenovo stand at MWC 2023 in Barcelona.
Now, I’m not here to decry the value of the straightforward business laptops Lenovo has on show. The conventional ThinkPad and IdeaPad models look great, but they’re not the center of attention here; in fact, I’m not even sure if Lenovo knows what the center of attention on their stand should be.
One employee said the most important thing Lenovo had to show off was indisputably the revolutionary new ‘rollable’ laptop display concept. Another said her personal favorite was the totally redesigned dual-screen Yoga Book 9i. I kept circling around and asking. A third said that it just had to be Lenovo’s new Smart Paper, which blurs the lines between tablets and e-readers. The fourth and final Lenovo staffer I spoke to said that the company’s ThinkPad X1 Fold Gen 2, which I tested at IFA 2022 in Berlin last year, was the most exciting product there.
Innovation in every direction
Lenovo already makes some of the best laptops on the market, and I was perfectly happy to see the manufacturer lifting the lid on a bevy of powerful new ThinkPads at MWC. The Lenovo stand has perhaps the best variety of cutting-edge laptops at the event – and that makes it hard for me to choose which products deserve my attention first.
Consumers will have the same issue. There’s a huge amount of use-case overlap going on here; why would I buy the ThinkPad X1 Fold, when the hinged dual displays of the new Yoga Book 9i can do practically everything it can minus the anxiety of bending a screen in half? Why would I need a laptop display that can unspool to get bigger when I could just, you know, buy a bigger laptop?
There’s a ton of innovation going on here, which I’m really torn about. The tech enthusiast in me says WOW, LOOK AT ALL THIS KICK-ASS STUFF, and I have to take a moment’s breath to ensure it doesn’t drown out the quieter, more cerebral journalist voice in the back of my head saying okay, but who’s going to buy it?
I spend a lot of time thinking about the needs and wants of consumers. Judging by the vast success of Apple’s MacBook Air, what people actually want right now are compact, powerful, lightweight devices with good battery life, hence the popularity of the best ultrabooks. These have always been the tenets of what makes a good laptop, and that’s not going to change anytime soon – a lot of these funky, esoteric designs fly in the face of those core ideals.
Variety isn’t the spice of life
Ultimately, innovation in the tech industry is a good thing – and I’m very conscious that being resistant to innovation is usually a surefire way to end up with egg on one’s face. There were naysayers when smartphones first arrived, and tablets, and virtually everything else.
But I’ve also learned to tread carefully. I pre-ordered (a dirty word these days, I know) a 3G-enabled PS Vita back when it was first revealed, thinking that an LTE handheld console with a nifty rear touchpad would be a revolution for the gaming space. I stand by that purchase and got many happy hours of use out of my Vita, but let’s be honest: it didn’t light the world on fire, and arguably sounded the death knell for Sony’s once-successful handheld gaming products. Innovation is great, but not every innovative idea pans out.
That leads me to guess at which of Lenovo’s latest ideas will prove profitable, and which will be consigned to the tech graveyard. I’m still not convinced that foldable laptop screens are as exciting as Lenovo wants them to be (nor Asus, with its rival Zenbook 17 Fold OLED) – especially not when more sensible and durable alternatives exist. Lenovo also has a very heavy focus on AR technology at MWC, which I feel is still years away from becoming even remotely widespread. Never say never, though… maybe in a decade, I’ll be writing my articles on a pair of smart glasses.