The ThinkPad is 25 and Lenovo is celebrating
Happy birthday, ThinkPad! Lenovo’s iconic laptop’s 25th birthday will be marked by an event in Japan as the company rolls out a special edition of the device that spurred corporate mobility.
The ThinkPad — initially an IBM creation — has thrived as it has changed hands to Lenovo. Lenovo has already teased a future ThinkPad prototype that bends and folds like a book. This ThinkPad isn’t anywhere near production, but the prototype was quite the concept laptop.
To mark the 25th anniversary, ThinkPad launched a limited edition model that features the classic design, ThinkPad Classic keyboard, and resembles earlier models such as the 700C. CNET called it an expensive oddity.
However, the Anniversary Edition ThinkPad has an Intel Core i7 processor as well as Nvidia GeForce graphics and 14-inch HD display. The ThinkPad Anniversary Edition will run you $1,899 in limited quantities and is likely to be seen as a collector’s item.
With Lenovo’s birthday it’s worth outlining a few key facts:
- The father of the ThinkPad is Arimasa Naitoh. Naitoh is the reason Lenovo is having the ThinkPad birthday party in Japan.
- There have been four generations of the ThinkPad, but models that are numerous and hard to track. Why? IBM and later Lenovo would customize models for corporate customers.
- IBM was spurred to chase battery powered computing after a Harvard Business Review article noted IT would change how companies compete. In 1984, IBM provided Harvard with luggable PCs weighing in at 35 pounds. The idea was to have a computer powerful enough to use VisiCalc for analysis.
- The Harvard business for IBM was under attack by other computer makers — notably Apple and DEC. IBM’s Yamato lab in Japan was tasked with cooking up something that could compete. IBM also needed to compete with Toshiba and Compaq, which manufactured the first two portable notebooks.
- Project Aloha was the original code name for what became the ThinkPad.
- Keyboards were always the ThinkPad’s strength since they were descendents of the IBM Selectric electronic typewriter.
- The ThinkPad precursor was originally going to launch in 1990 for production runs, but IBM’s North Carolina hub couldn’t get the parts to fit together well. The ThinkPad was cramming multiple parts together in a small (at the time) shell.
- The pressure to launch the ThinkPad was intense. IBM was pushing to keep the Harvard Business School happy.
- IBM didn’t put a big marketing push behind the L40 SX partly because it wasn’t a design triumph as much as an engineering and manufacturing one. Another wrinkle: The L40 SX didn’t have enough IBM technologies in it. The L40 SX did serve as the precursor to the ThinkPad brand.
- 700C was designed to be the L40 SX’s replacement under Project Nectarine. The big advance for 700C was a color LCD — even though it wasn’t clear how much color would make it into the screen. In 1992, the ThinkPad brand launched.
- Two other critical decisions with the 700C were that the notebook would be black and include the ThinkPad’s iconic TrackPoint. The ThinkPad 700C had a developer’s launch in April 1992.
- The 700C launched at Comdex weighing in at 5.7 pounds and came with a $4,350 price tag.
- The ThinkPad has been to space, down the Nile River and on top of Mount Everest.
- In December 1993, the ThinkPad 750C went into space when NASA repaired the Hubble Telescope. The ThinkPad was an off-the-shelf version. The ThinkPad became a NASA workhorse device.
- Tim Cook, now Apple CEO, was among the first in IBM to argue that Big Blue should make a consumer notebook.
- In 1995-1996, the ThinkPad was hit with quality issues. The StinkPad became a moniker. IBM CEO Lou Gerstner pushed quality improvements. IBM began to monitor how students abused ThinkPads to improve reliability.
- 1995 brought the ThinkPad 701c, which offered a split keyboard into two diagonal pieces and reunited them when the laptop opened.
- 1997 brought the ThinkPad 770, which had a DVD-ROM.
- The ThinkPad team adopted strategies from the auto industry — including air bags — to enable the ThinkPad to take more abuse. The ThinkPad T60 had a roll cage.
- In 2000, the Lenovo X20 launched the X series of ThinkPads.
- The ThinkPad T42 featured a fingerprint reader in 2004.
- The ThinkPad X41 appeared in 2005 and included a screen that twisted. IBM, which sold its PC business to Lenovo, set the stage for a Yoga/ThinkPad combination years later.
- Lenovo’s X300 was priced at $2,700 to $3,000 and heavily promoted at the Beijing Summer Olympics. The 2008 launch arrived just as a financial crisis hit. The upside is that X300 set the stage for the X1 Carbon.
- Lenovo fused its ThinkPad and Yoga approaches with the ThinkPad Carbon, Yoga, and Tablet. The focus is to be a key business tool.
- And now Lenovo has floated the concept car of the future ThinkPad. When will this device launch? Who knows, but Lenovo will adapt the ThinkPad brand for the foreseeable future.
Source: Lenovo; “How the ThinkPad Changed the World and Is Shaping the Future”