Battery, thermal heat remain biggest notebook design challenges: Lenovo

Notebook vendor shares insight into how the current state of technology shaped the design of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Lenovo development design and user experience director, Tomoyuki Takahashi

Lenovo development design and user experience director, Tomoyuki Takahashi

What is the biggest challenge when designing an Ultrabook such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon?

According to Lenovo development design and user experience director, Tomoyuki Takahashi, the common culprit is still the battery.

Takashi says that one way to ease the pain of integrating the battery into a notebook is by adoption a thin type battery, however they are still too expensive to make and would unnecessarily add to the price tag of the device.

“That’s why there is a tendency to adopt a regular, cylindrical type battery instead, as it is a cheaper option,” he said.

While battery technology has long been the inhibitor of notebook compactness, a new challenge in the form of thermal heat is causing just as many headaches for designers.

“As computer components become more powerful, they tend to generate more heat as well,” Takahashi said.

When asked which one of the two challenges is the bigger issue, Takashi says it is difficult to choose as they are very different from each other.

“We have been dealing with battery limitations for many years, so it is an issue we are well aware of,” he said.

“Thermal heat, on the other hand, is more difficult to keep track of as it is not something you can immediately see like with a battery.”

Driving a wedge

When it came to addressing the wedge shape design adopted by the X1 Carbon, says it is due to inclusion of standard USB ports than to the internal battery.

“From a design point of view, we would prefer not include connection ports such as this to make the device even more compact,” Takahashi said.

“However, we recognize that this is a functionality that customer want, so we included them into our design.”

The compact form factor of the X1 Carbon is also a reflection of the ongoing trend to make notebooks thinner.

“The wedge shape in particular helps to give an impression of slimness, even though it is technically possible to make the casing even thinner,” Takahashi said.

Size matters

Takahashi admits there is such a thing as a notebook being “too small”, with past ThinkPad iterations such as the 701 by IBM failing to find a foothold in the market.

“We released several small notebooks in the Japanese market in the late ‘90s, but they were not well accepted by consumers,” Takahashi said.

Instead of laying the blame on the limitations of the computer and battery technology at the time, Takahashi says the biggest issue was the keyboard on those ThinkPads, or the lack of one.

“The keyboard was too small and that made it difficult to use the devices,” he said.

Despite the lack of success with these miniature notebooks, Lenovo’s designers are still working on creating notebooks both big and small, even if they never come on the market and remain in Lenovo’s laboratory.

“It’s true that consumers in places such as Japan want lighter and smaller notebooks, but these days we design products for the worldwide market,” Takahashi said.

“So products such as the X1 Carbon have been designed with that global audience in mind.”

Patrick Budmar travelled to Lenovo’s media event in Tokyo as a guest of Lenovo.

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