On his recent trip to Sydney, Arimasa Naitoh, the father of the ThinkPad and Lenovo's worldwide VP of Development, provided some useful insights into the future of laptop computing.
Performance is still king
Naitoh told the assembled crowd of journalists that although he's heard reports from customers and analysts preaching "performance is no longer an issue" and the "PC has enough power already", performance will become an increasingly important consideration in future notebook purchases. The two main applications he mentioned would be the source of this demand for performance were Windows Vista (specifically its Aero graphics capabilities) and "security software".
Fuel-cell battery technology isn't mature
Battery life will also be of supreme importance as we move closer towards laptops that can run for a full working day on a single battery. Naitoh promised that, within the next two years, Lenovo will have a notebook that runs for eight hours using Lithium Ion technology.
According to Naitoh, fuel-cell technology still has a "long way to go", particularly in terms of "longevity". Not only has Lenovo had an uphill battle with integrating fuel-cells into a traditional battery pack format, it's also found that the performance of a fuel-cell dramatically decreases after a limited number of charge cycles.
Although Lenovo has traditionally targeted the business crowd, it recently released the consumer-targeted Lenovo 3000 series, as "many people want to have a ThinkPad that is not black". Naitoh shuns the use of aluminium in laptop manufacturing, calling it "weak", instead praising titanium (used in the construction of the 3000) for its light-weight and scratch-resistant properties.
Naitoh also showed off a number of ThinkPad concept designs with innovations such as raising displays and removable keyboards. He didn't give any word on whether these would be incorporated into official ThinkPad models, but we've snagged some pictures for you anyway.
When asked about the future prospects of Microsoft's "Origami" mini-tablet design, Naitoh was sceptical. "I'll have a hard time to convince myself that Origami will be a primary device," he said.
Wireless all the way
Lenovo will soon upgrade its onboard networking components to support the new MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) wireless LAN technology. This is handy as it avoids users having to purchase a PCMCIA external card.
It will also continue to roll out WWAN support (allowing users to connect their notebooks up to 3G mobile networks for Web surfing on the go) across its notebook range. This is already available on Lenovo's T and X series of products, and will be introduced on the R and Z series "in the next few months", according to Frank Luburic, a Senior ThinkPad Product Manager. Unfortunately, the WWAN support will continue to be locked to the Vodafone network.
Multimedia isn't a priority
While Lenovo will continue to include a "basic multimedia set" of features in its laptop designs, it won't make entertainment a priority. As such, advanced multimedia features such as an integrated TV tuner "probably" won't feature on ThinkPad notebooks any time soon.
"We are not intending to specially design a ThinkPad focusing on entertainment," he said.
Naitoh added that Lenovo intends to support both next-generation DVD formats, but we won't see either of the two formats officially added to the ThinkPad product line until "next year". High costs and slow write speeds were cited by Naitoh as being the main current deterrents.