The humble ThinkPad is one of the most iconic PCs around, and any tech-head will tell you it’s with good reason. While other brands have followed the route of form over function, or focused on designs that satisfy an aesthetic before they serve a utilitarian purpose, the ThinkPad (originally an IBM computer which was acquired by tech juggernaut Lenovo in 2005) has remained true to its roots, and as such has kept a long list of loyal customers over the years. As other laptop designs have come and go, the ThinkPad has consistently punched above its weight and is favoured by many for its durability and adaptability. It even holds a decent resale value – how many computers can you say that about?
“In the press, philosophically, we get very favourably compared with companies like Levis, Jeep and Porsche. People who have a consistent vision throughout time of what their industrial design should look like and who have stayed very true to that. They evolve. They become better. They are more technologically advanced – but for 25 years, it’s the only product in the technology market that I know of where you’ve been able to say one sentence. It’s square and it’s black and it has a red dot in the middle and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about” says Kevin Beck, Lenovo’s Senior Worldwide Competitive Analyst.
“It’s definitely the flagship commercial market product for us but more importantly, I think it has a pretty big place in our overall philosophy of how we focus on making sure the technology delivers what it ultimately has to deliver, which is utility. Technology for the sake of flash is no good to anyone.”
This steely-eyed commitment to practical over pretty is a winning formula, but when asked to pinpoint exactly what sets the ThinkPad ahead of the pack in a very saturated and competitive marketplace, Beck is honest in explaining that it’s not something you can easily define.
“It’s a long winded answer but it’s really two things. One, which may be more of more interest on the industrial design side, is the consistency. It has changed in many ways; the little elements of the design philosophy have evolved over time, as any product. It modernises, but the distinguishing elements are all still there. For us, if there’s a way to make it more complex versus a way to make it more simple, we’re always going to try and make it more simple.
“Instead of having pink and blue and purple and green, it’s just black. It’s the colour of power. It’s the colour of simplicity. It’s the reason people always talk about the little black dress and James Bond’s black tuxedo. That’s what we’re going for in the long term, that understated, tasteful simplicity over time.
“Secondly, the balance from a technology stand point. When we do things like, for example, our X1 Carbon – a 16mm, 1.13 kilo laptop. We redesigned that entire product from the ground up last year to make the bezels thinner because that’s what the modern market demands. Aesthetically, it’s what people want to look at, but I think we can safely say we didn’t compromise anything in that.
While these updated looks haven’t hurt the ThinkPad, it’s the guts of it that has made it such a loved and respected laptop to happy users worldwide, and these still take pride of pace as priority for Lenovo when designing a new line.
“The ports, the connectivity, the battery life, and most importantly, the position of things like the camera and the microphone – we didn’t do what a lot of other people have done in the past and move the camera to the bottom just so you could get thinner bezels and sort of ruin the usability of the camera. The webcam is top centre where it’s supposed to be. The microphones are top centre where they’re supposed to be. It got significantly smaller and lighter than the generation before it.”
In an ever changing marketplace that’s forced to constantly outperform the next big thing or the new kid on the block – the new ThinkPad once again shows us that a delicate balance between form and function is something that takes practice, time, and a lot of restraint, but pays off for a very, very long time.
Written in partnership with Lenovo