Celebrating 10 Years of Think

Guest post by: Peter Hortensius, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Lenovo

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of Lenovo’s acquisition of IBM’s PCD business, I can’t help but reflect upon the past 10 years – what a decade it has been. A lot happened in 2005: YouTube launched in the U.S., Arianna Huffington founded a little known online news site called The Huffington Post and consumer tablets, smartphones and portable PCs were on the horizon. It was also the year we acquired IBM’s PC division, a move that sparked a decade full of innovations, and helped lead Lenovo to become #1 in the PC industry.

I came to Lenovo in 2005 through the PC division acquisition, having spent 17 years with IBM working on product and technology R&D. Early on, we set our sights on breaking into and then leading the global PC market. I’ve spent the majority of my career working on our Think-branded products, especially ThinkPad. During the past 10 years, we’ve built some watershed products that helped raise the bar on business innovation for our customers. Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:

The Race to the No Compromise X300 (2008)

The challenge to make a laptop thinner, lighter and faster remains ever present. In 2008, the X300 broke new ground in achieving the incredible thinness that led to even slimmer designs now with the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon.  However, of all our products, the ThinkPad X300, and now its X1 Carbon successor, gives you the best balance of thinness, lightness and full performance (SSD, WXGA+, 10 hours battery life).  These types of features make it best for business.

At the time, I headed our ThinkPad business, and our guiding principle was to make a no compromise laptop in any of these three areas. To get it less than 3/4th of an inch and down to 2.9 pounds, we experimented with many materials. We settled on advanced carbon and glass fiber for its extreme lightness enabling us to also include a roll cage for reliability and durability.

At the time, customers wanted a DVD burner, so we scoured suppliers around the world to find one who could make one small enough to fit. We also shipped one of the industry’s first SSDs and collaborated with Intel to create a custom processor to meet the thermal envelop.   This machine had more new technology in it than anything else I have launched before or after.  After many months of working on the product we were about to launch it. We even gave BusinessWeek an inside look at the makings of the X300, which they subsequently called the perfect laptop when one of our competitors (you can guess who)  announced a new slim laptop right before our scheduled announcement. While theirs could fit in a manila envelope (ours could too), ours could do a lot more. You might have seen this video.   This is still the case. There are some thinner laptops than our X1 Carbon, but none can match the Carbon or its combination of full features and ruggedness - just what you expect from a ThinkPad.

Unleashing Industry’s First Dual-Screen Workstation (2009)

As part of Lenovo, we have the flexibility to create specific products to our different groups of users. With the ThinkPad W700ds, we designed the ultimate mobile workstation for photographers and digital content creators. These users wanted large screens for editing photos, videos, and animations but also usually use a second screen and digitizing pad to operate the software.  So we said what if we could give them a full solution in a mobile form factor, a 17-inch screen for main screen viewing, a second 10.6-inch screen for software control, and a full digitizing pad on the keyboard bezel.   In the end we did it.  We even included a colorimeter to ensure you could truly match the color on the display to the color of the actual object.   Creating this machine posed countless engineering challenges. We had to balance the large 17-in screen size and functionality with keeping the PC cool and quiet. And consider things such as making the display top contain two screens, deploying the second screen and accommodating the large digitizer while not impacting the keyboard.   But in the end after count debates and user testing we did it.

Breaking the Mold with Convertibles (2012)

For Lenovo, 2012 became the year of the convertible. We announced the consumer YOGA convertible, the ThinkPad Helix with its “rip and flip” design  and the ThinkPad Twist about a year before our ThinkPad YOGA convertible.  The Helix design serves a specific segment of our business customers who prefer a detachable full-function PC in a tablet form factor. It’s our first product with dual batteries in two devices:  one in the tablet and one in the docking station. The tablet gets charged first so it’s ready when you need it. We also designed a cooling system that could work “better” when in the base.   You have to remember the big docking connectors between the tablet and the base. They looked like overkill but it allowed to us to unquestionably keep that ThinkPad rock-solid image.  I am always amazed that some of the biggest CEOs in tech tell me how much they loved our Helix. In 2013, the ThinkPad YOGA took the YOGA design and modified the tablet mode with its “lift and lock” keyboard system, another engineering feat.   This was one of those seemingly impossible challenges (that the ThinkPad team loved). It’s a simple mechanism, and it takes it roots in a long past ThinkPad (guess which one) as we used a cam to move the keyboard in and out.  

Lenovo's 100 Millionth ThinkPad, a.k.a. "Eve" at CES 2015

100 Million ThinkPad Laptops Shipped (2015)

In January, we shipped our 100 millionth ThinkPad - the latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which we nicknamed Eve.  We are grateful to our customers and loyal ThinkPad fans who have helped build this iconic brand. To celebrate, we named the 100 millionth unit Eve and had a little fun with the milestone at CES.

Post acquisition, we expanded our PC family beyond laptops, desktops and monitors with ThinkStation, and then ThinkServer

Expanding to Workstations with ThinkStation (2007)

Two years after the acquisition, we took a bold move and expanded in ways I doubt we would have done as IBM when we entered the workstation market.  The overall desktop market had been declining, and we saw our competitors leaving. Yet we were doing the opposite by doubling down and launching workstations for professionals who need extreme graphics and computational performance. We knew we could produce great products, be competitive and increase profits. At the time, we had a partnership with the NBA. They were using our laptops, desktops and workstations, so we held the launch at their store in NYC.  That was very cool. At IBM, we would have done a few interviews and a press release. One of the biggest differences in our product launches as Lenovo is that we go big. We announced the dual processor D10 and single processor S10, our first in a long line of future workstations.  

ThinkCentre M92p "Tiny" at just the width of a golf ball

Desktop Goes Tiny with ThinkCentre M92p “Tiny” (2012)

While many of our competitors focused solely on laptops during this time, we were determined to also make inroads in the commercial desktop market. We focused on two things: miniaturizing the desktop and creating all-in-one desktops. The ThinkCentre M92p “Tiny” gave customers a new reason to consider a desktop.  At just the width of a golf ball (34.5 mm), it fit in nearly any business environment and had the features such as Intel vPro that IT managers needed. Both form factors have resonated with customers, and we continue on this dual strategy today.   One of the things I often get asked is whether Tiny is tough enough to be a desktop. The reality is that the compact size actually allowed us to make it extremely solid - more so than a standard full-sized desktop.  You can even drive a truck over it.  

Completing the Portfolio with ThinkServer (2008)

We knew early on that in order to deliver a complete solution to our customers, servers needed to be in the mix. While our recent acquisition of the IBM x86 server business catapulted us to the number three position worldwide, we actually started with servers in 2008 when we announced our first ThinkServer systems. With our initial foray into servers, we released tower and rack systems geared towards small-to-medium sized businesses. Let’s fast forward to 2014. We released fifth-generation ThinkServer systems with Intel at Intel Developer Forum that included industry-first innovation, such as amazing flexibility with Lenovo AnyBay technology and a revolutionary thermal design. The industry-unique Lenovo AnyBay design allows multiple storage types in the same drive bay, including front-accessible PCIe SSD for ultimate performance. With a dynamic environmental design, these new servers can run at 45 degrees Celsius continuously — with no impact on reliability. This can reduce cooling costs by allowing customers to operate their data center at a higher temperature.

Industry’s First EPEAT Gold Rated Monitor – the ThinkVision L193p (2007)

I remember challenging our teams to be the first ones in the industry to be awarded the EPEAT Gold rating for a monitor. Having to meet 43 criteria covering a range of attributes from energy efficiency to packaging and many other aspects, in itself wasn’t easy. We did this and exceed it by being the first to create a monitor listed in the EPEAT registry with more than 25 percent post consumer recycled content. Our teams had to identify suppliers who could provide an engineered post-consumer recycled content resin that met the same standards as the prime resin it was replacing.  They also had to help identify consistent and reliable streams of post-consumer material to ensure we’d have enough quantity and quality to meet our production requirements.  We used the lessons we learned on the L193p to expand our use of post consumer recycled content materials into other product categories and materials.  To date we’ve used more than 157 million pounds of recycled content in our products including desktops, notebooks, workstations, and monitors.  By using recycled material, Lenovo has avoided the emission of more than 106 million pounds of CO2.

It’s impossible to tell all the stories, challenges/solutions and products over the past 10 years into just a few paragraphs. This is my highlights reel. Please share your favorites and any memorable experiences in the comments.