Bridging the ThinkPad/Ideapad Divide

With the sneak preview of two impeding ThinkPad models, the X100e and Edge, Lenovo is blurring the line between it’s business-oriented ThinkPad series and consumer-oriented IdeaPad series. Both sport the ubiquitous red TrackPoint as well as a trackpad with prominent buttons, and have the blue Enter key. Both are thin and lack optical drives. However, they apparently sport not a metallic case, but a plastic case similar to that of the IdeaPad lines. They also appear to be latchless, with the lid and display merely closing down on the keyboard. To top it all off, they will be priced below US $600, way below that of the cheapest ThinkPad currently marketed and on par with many IdeaPads.

The X100e has the dimensions of a high-end netbook, and as such overlaps with the IdeaPad S12 in features. And in a departure form all other ThinkPads, it will come in black, white, or red external cases, though the display bezel and case around the keyboard remains black.

The Edge, on the other hand, seems to compete with the IdeaPad U-series, being ultra-thin with a wider display. Similar to the X100e, it will come in black or red cases.

So now in a couple of months’ time we are going to see ThinkPads that don’t feel exactly like ThinkPads. That’s because their cases don’t resemble those of current ThinkPad models. In fact, take away the TrackPoint, remove the red ridges on the trackpad buttons, and they’d easily pass for IdeaPads. The X100e and Edge suffer an identity crisis, it seems. They’re like IdeaPads that want to be like ThinkPads. So why not call them IdeaPads? But there’s that red TrackPoint…

We’re in a quandary here. A lot of people are complaining that Lenovo is diluting the value of the ThinkPad brand by slapping the name on two laptops that happen to sport the TrackPoint but don’t share the, ahem, quality build the brand is justifiably renowned for. They say that the ThinkPad moniker should stay with high-end business-oriented laptops and that Lenovo should stick with the IdeaPad name for it’s low-cost consumer laptops. There are those who are saying instead that it’s about time Lenovo should aim the ThinkPad at the student or home user, IdeaPads notwithstanding. Lenovo wants to bring ThinkPad aesthetics and appeal to the masses, accordingly.

Should it? Apple took a stab at appealing to the masses with the candy-colored iBook G3 in 1999 (and it won a marketing coup when Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods character brought a tangerine iBook in her law classroom awash in black ThinkPads in the movie Legally Blonde, sending the message that it’s cool to be different and, well, fun.) It had the higher end PowerBooks at the same time, but both lines sold well while remaining distinct from each other. Lenovo is in the same position with it’s IdeaPads and ThinkPads, but now that the X100e and Edge are due, the overlap is going to be significant.

I believe this could have been avoided if the IdeaPad had a trackpad (ok, call it a TrackPoint) from the very start. A lot of IdeaPad S10 owners (like me) asked why couldn’t our units have TrackPoints. But apparently Lenovo feels (or felt) that consumer laptops don’t need a pointing stick. The demand was there though. Would it make the IdeaPad too similar to the ThinkPad then? Possibly, of course, but then it doesn’t have to be a ThinkPad-style TrackPoint. Not a red one, at least. Take a look at the ThinkPad logo:

It has the word “ThinkPad” in black letters when set against a white background, and a red tittle surmounting the “i” in clear reference to the TrackPoint. Now look at the IdeaPad logo:

It has four colors, with the “i” and “pad” in gray, “d” in light blue, “e” in “idea” in lime green, and “a” in “idea” in orange, with an orange tittle surmounting the “i”. Those same colors appear on the boxes of IdeaPads, with the side view of the profile of an IdeaPad gracing the box.

(Picture courtesy of Notebooks.com)

If we’re going to apply the same design principle as the ThinkPad logo, then IdeaPads would have cases in gray, blue, or lime green, and orange TrackPoints. Orange could also be used for the Enter key; or maybe not, as it is too bright for a key. Maybe the same light blue? So, similar but not identical to a ThinkPad. Are those colors too gaudy for a laptop? Well, Lenovo has used colors other than black or white in it’s IdeaPads.

Had Lenovo done this from the start,then maybe the ThinkPad X100e and Edge could have been renamed as part of the S-series and U-series, respectively.

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