Notebook manufacturer Lenovo is set to enter the consumer notebook market with a flashy new offering called the IdeaPad. Set to be rolled out at the 2008 CES Expo in Las Vegas next week the new IdeaPads include red aluminum-alloy cases, beefed-up gaming features, halo lighting and face-recognition technology.
The new product offering is part of a major strategic shift for Lenovo, as it tries to compete head-on with the likes of Hewlett-Packard Toshiba and Apple in selling PCs directly to consumers in Australia.
The new Lenovo consumer models will be available in Australia in April 2008 however the job of reaching consumers will be a lot harder for Lenovo as they are not seen as consumer brand like HP Dell, Acer or Toshiba or even Sony.
As Lenovo takes aim at consumers, it is looking at a crowded, competitive market. Companies such as Dell and Acer are vying for space on retail shelves, and brands are struggling to distinguish themselves on something other than price as differences among computer brands on performance and function have diminished in recent years.
“Everybody’s got a glossy black notebook that’s super thin and super light, and the question is, what do they do next?” says John Spooner, a senior analyst at Technology Business Research.
As with many of its competitors, Lenovo is emphasizing design and style, and trying to turn notebooks into fashion accessories that reflect individual personality. Stylish design is expected to be a key theme at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“The notebook market is getting more like cars,” says Craig Merrigan, vice president of global consumer marketing for Lenovo. “The car you drive reflects on you, and notebooks are becoming more of a form of self-expression.”
Lenovo’s new IdeaPad notebooks look like the hipper cousins of the ThinkPad line, which Lenovo inherited from International Business Machines Corp. in 2005, when the Chinese company purchased the personal-computer arm of IBM. The notebooks feature textured cases, including one that resembles linen fabric, and frameless screens.
ThinkPad has a reputation for strong engineering and durability, and Lenovo is trying to capitalize on IBM’s engineering legacy with the IdeaPad line. One of the new products, a red notebook called the IdeaPad U110, borrows features from the ThinkPad, including an air-bag-like device that is designed to protect data during a fall.
Another distinguishing feature on the new models is face-recognition technology that allows users to instantly log on to their computer by looking at the screen. (The computer takes a photo of the user, and matches it against a database of registered users.) The new consumer notebooks will also use the same type of keyboard as the ThinkPad, which was known for comfort.
Prices on the new notebook computers have not been set for Australia however they are expected to be at the upper end of the market. The company is trying to distinguish itself from lower-price competitors such as Acer by linking higher prices to quality. “We don’t want to be misunderstood as a low-end brand,” says Mr. Merrigan.
Some analysts question whether consumers will be willing to pay more for Lenovo’s extra engineering features when a company such as Acer can offer a PC with similar functionality at less than $1,000.
“Design can command a bit of premium, but not that much,” says Roger L. Kay, founder of Endpoint Technologies Associates.
In China and India, Lenovo is well-established in the consumer market, where it controls roughly 30% and 22%, respectively, of consumer sales. But in most of the developed world, Lenovo has been dependent on sales of ThinkPads to businesses.
The initial product line includes three notebooks, including the IdeaPad Y710, aimed at gaming and entertainment users, and the IdeaPad Y510, which is being pitched as a basic, all-in-one notebook.