New Designs Will Redefine the World of Portable Computing

I began covering the PC industry in 1981 and was one of the first professional analysts to study and chronicle the PC market. Over 38 years, the PC industry has produced close to $3 trillion in revenue and created a lot of wealth and jobs for people who create PC’s, PC software, and services that support them.

Today, the majority of personal computers sold are laptops and notebooks. While desktop computers are still made, they represent only about 20% of all PC’s shipped today. The real PC workhorses that fuel a much more mobile business lifestyle are notebooks and laptops that drive today’s productivity, education, entertainment, and social media applications.

I have watched the evolution of the laptop very closely over these 38 years. In fact, I was at CEBIT in 1985 when Toshiba introduced the first ever clamshell laptop, a design that the PC Industry embraced and has popularized for over three decades.
What is ironic about the clamshell design is that until 2012, there was very little innovation in terms of design changes to that form factor.

The first break with traditional clamshells came in 2012 with the introduction of what Intel called “2 in 1’s.” These were fundamentally a tablet with a detachable keyboard. Wired called them “lapelets” at the time, and some called them “hybrids.”

Being able to break the stronghold of the clamshell design was partly due to Microsoft’s newest OS that added a pen and touch support and other features that came out to support their first Surface hybrids in this same year.

One could argue that Apple forced this design revolution with the introduction of the iPad in 2010, that also included a detachable keyboard and a touch UI, but its focus was on being a tablet, not a laptop replacement like the 2 in 1’s were from the beginning.

Since the 2 in 1’s emerged, there has been a lot of experimentation in the area of portable computing. We have seen dozens of hybrids and 2 in 1’s in many form factors and designs. Laptops have also become thinner and lighter. However, these types of mobile computers have not really caught on. They represent no more 10-15% of all laptops and notebooks sold today.

If you take a historical look at the trends in portable computers, from 1985 to 2012 would be called the clamshell era. From 2012-2020, could be seen as the hybrid era. Now, as we are about to enter a new decade, we are about to see what one might call a “flexible Era” of mobile computing as the advances in technology components are accelerating. Over the next decade, mobile computer makers will have a host of new technologies to work with, from new battery chemistry that could power a laptop for a week, to new low voltage semiconductors that have enough power to deliver 3D holographic images to mobile screens. Portable computers will handle AR and VR user interfaces and applications and, work with glasses that could transform the mobile computing experience altogether.

And over the next three years, we should see a perfecting of foldable screens that could be used in laptops as well as smartphones.
In early example of a foldable laptop was introduced by Lenovo a few weeks back. Tentatively named the ThinkPad X1 Foldable, it sports a 13 “ screen that folds in half.

Lenovo showed this to me recently, and I got to test it out, and while it is still a prototype, it is well designed, and they solved one of the biggest problems with any foldable devices. They have developed patented hinges that move with the fold and makes it possible for the screen seems to stay in place no matter how many times you fold it during its life. The quality of this device is excellent since it was designed by Lenovo’s Yamato team that created the ThinkPad line of laptops.

There is no date for its release yet, and most other laptop vendors are working on similar models that could debut at CES in January.

While the folding screens themselves are still a work in progress and may take a few years to perfect its manufacturing process, Lenovo has given us a glimpse of the future of portable computing and which, along with the new advances in technology mentioned above, could make the next decade the flexible era of portable computing.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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