The Chinese PC giant touts "convertibles" during a New York event. No, not cars, but laptops that can be switched into tablets.
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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
"What people want is flexibility," David Schmoock, Lenovo's president of North America, said in an interview with CNET. "People need, at the end of the day, a fully functioning PC as their primary device. But they also want the flexibility to use a tablet."
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The company today unveiled three devices that use Intel chips and run Windows 8. It also demonstrated an 11-inch computer that uses an Nvidia chip and runs Windows RT.
Lenovo expects the devices to help bridge the gap between PCs and tablets. That's important for the company, which has been expanding in the computer market even as rivals look to higher margin areas like business storage products. Lenovo continues to post strong growth, largely dowing to its exposure to China, but it's not completely immune to a slowdown in demand from consumers.
The overall PC market has waned of late as consumers, cautious about the global economy, hold off on PC purchases in favor of mobile devices. IDC in August projected that global PC shipments should rise just 0.9 percent this year. Computer makers are counting on new thin-and-light devices and the introduction of Microsoft's latest Windows software to reinvigorate sales.
Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, said Lenovo is hedging its bets with different PC models like convertibles.
"They're trying to cover the gamut of form factors that might succeed," he said. "Lenovo doesn't really know what will win, and neither does anyone else."
Watch this: Hands-on with Lenovo's limber IdeaPad Yoga 13 laptop
Lenovo launched its new devices during an event in New York's Chelsea neighborhood. The launch featured a DJ and several guest appearances, including Anthony Sasso, a Michelin-starred chef. Martin Campbell, the director of "Green Lantern" and "Casino Royale," showed a new commercial filmed to promote Lenovo's devices.
One Windows 8 device, the IdeaPad Yoga 13, will be available exclusively through Best Buy and Lenovo's Web site, with preorders starting October 12 and shipping when Windows launches October 26. Another PC, the ThinkPad Twist, will be available at Staples, other regional retailers, and Lenovo's site starting at the same time.
The Windows RT device, the ThinkPad Yoga 11, will launch in December, as will the IdeaTab Lynx. Executives said the later launch date for the Windows RT device is because it wasn't complete quite as early as the Yoga 13 device, which uses Windows 8 and runs on an Intel chip.
"We have a product readiness cycle, and that particular [Windows RT] product, we felt, was not quite ready," Peter Hortensius, director of Lenovo's global product group, said in an interview with CNET.
He said Lenovo is putting a bigger emphasis on the Yoga 13 in North America and wanted to release it earlier. The Yoga 11, which uses Windows RT and an Nvidia chip, will be pushed more in Asia and will be released there in mid-November, several weeks before its North American launch, he said. The Yoga 13 will be released in Asia about about the same time, Hortensius added.
"Traditionally, Asia always gravitates more to ultraportables," Hortensius said. "North America prefers 14-, 15-, and 16-inch screens."
"Anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is that products are about trade-offs, and you begin to make trade-offs to the point where what you have left doesn't please anyone," Cook said. "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going be pleasing to the user."
Still, PC makers hope the new touch capabilities enabled by Windows 8/RT will make convertible devices more appealing to users.
"Once people use touch, they get hooked on that type of experience," Schmoock said.
Updated at 4:50 p.m. PT with details about launch event and comment from Microsoft, and again at 5:40 p.m. PT with additional Lenovo executive comments.