While I was hunting around for new and interesting patents, I of course found the dual screen patent I posted earlier. This was exciting since it could mark the return of the style of laptop we haven’t seen since the W700ds and W701ds. It could also mark a departure from an over-focus on thin and light where users might happily trade some weight for some additional features.
The ThinkPad with two screens might live again in the discovery of a new patent application for a dual-screen laptop. The ThinkPad W700DS and W701DS are insane systems to behold for two reasons: They are one of the largest, working production ThinkPads out there. They have a pull-out screen for extra productivity. You can see […]
But it wasn’t the only patent I found that was interesting. It looks like Lenovo is freeing up some space inside their machines for a different kind of storage; a place for you to put some wireless earbuds or several other devices. You can see one of their ideas on how this would work in the patent drawing at the top of this article. The earbud version of this modular system has already been announced on a ThinkBook device but the rest of the items in the patent detail some devices that we have yet to see. Thanks to Twitter user Benni for pointing this out.
The patent shows some details on how they would fit inside and charge when the mechanism is closed. There are also some drawings of another potential storage method which are illustrated below (Figures 13A to 13C). But more importantly, at least to me, there are also some diagrams and claims about this storage bay being used for other devices such as lights, cameras or speakers (Figures 16A-16D). This is where things get really interesting. We have seen other companies like Framework explore modularity in laptop design, but that was limited to whatever fits in a very small space and ultimately needs to connect to a USB-C connector. The Lenovo patent seems to be using a similar USB-based solution but making an internal component rather than an external one.
The patent describes everything from cameras, biometric devices, SSDs, speakers and more being able to sit in the tray. It is clear they want to take advantage of the additional space they have created as other components get smaller.
One of the things I find curious is the willingness to make room for the feature as it probably means the laptop that houses this technology would need to be a minimum thickness to properly hold the earbuds or other items in question.
What do you think of this idea? Is this something that you would use or seek out in your next laptop or do you think the effort might fall on deaf ears? I have to admit the idea of having a high-quality camera I can take out and use with my laptop intrigues me greatly. Let me know what you think by @ me on Twitter. As always, the patent document is below for your review and I will update this story as new information becomes available.
These have captivated people and collectors for ages and now, it looks like Lenovo might be thinking about making another one.
I was diving into the patent database again and came across a new patent filed on September 27, 2022 with these drawings:
That patent also directly references the Lenovo ThinkPad W700, W700ds, W701 and 701ds Hardware Maintenance Manual under “Other Publications” strengthening the connection. But they aren’t stopping at just remaking the classic, it looks like they have plans on improving it as well.
The patent details this new system as rather than having a second screen, it is in fact a tablet computer. This isn’t too surprising looking at what Lenovo has been doing with their ThinkBook line and integrating a tablet into the palm rest. This, however, makes a lot more sense to me. The tablet can be used as an additional screen like the W700ds and W701ds but it can also possibly be removed and potentially reoriented or used in a wireless mode. It can be a bit tricky to tell what exactly the final product will look like from patents as they try and cover variations within the claims. This secondary screen or tablet also is mentioned to have its own web camera that would be activated once the secondary display is removed a certain distance from the housing.
It also appears from the description that it might be able to detect the position of the secondary screen/tablet and only use the exposed screen real-estate. Figures 7 through 15 illustrate the methodology of several screen states and their effect on how the secondary screen would behave.
Now which model this could ship on is anyone’s guess right now. Like many patented ideas, it might never come to pass. If I had to make a guess though, this seems like it would be at home on a workstation-class machine like a P-series. Time will tell if it makes it to production.
To see the complete patent, please click the link below and feel free to @ me on Twitter to let me know what you think about this new patent. If I learn anything new, I will update this article accordingly with new information or corrections.
If you are like me, you have spent some time looking through Hardware Maintenance Manuals for ThinkPads. It was actually while looking at the HMM for the T41 to disassemble and remove the WLAN card that I noted some interesting references to LG-IBM branding. Specifically, stickers were to be placed over any replacement parts bearing the ThinkPad branding for the South Korean market.
A friend and avid ThinkPad collector Tasurinchi shared an article with me that mentioned the breakup of the deal. This was clearly the tip of the iceberg of an interesting story. We both knew about the Acer partnership where Acer was contracted out to build several laptops under the ThinkPad brand. However, it would appear that the ThinkPad R40 and R40e (pictured above) were built in South Korea in LG owned factories. The sticker located on the bottom of my R40 confirms this (Made in Korea) and the schematics as discovered by Thinkpads.com forum user Screamer found the manufacturers were “LG Gryphon” and “LG D3 Entry” respectively for these two machines.
So where did it all begin?
In 1996, IBM entered into a partnership with LG to break into the Korean market. The arrangement created LG-IBM and saw IBM owning 51% of the company controlling the manufacturing and marketing of PCs while LG’s 49% was focused on other consumer electronics. This allowed IBM to break into the market, shipping their PC solutions and it gave LG an excellent opportunity to learn everything it could from IBM.
In 2004 the announcement came that the two companies would be splitting off, each essentially retaining their own rights to their respective properties. IBM would retain their rights to all of their trademarked properties like ThinkPad and LG would continue developing their own line of laptops called the Xnote. Interestingly enough, both IBM, LG-IBM and LG were targets of a bribery scandal that both parties claimed was unrelated to the announcement to split.
The two companies said the separation was unrelated to the indictments early this year of three officials of LG IBM and three from IBM’s Korea unit on charges of bribing government officials in order to win contracts to supply computer parts and services.
After the indictments were issued, IBM said that it had dismissed its three officials and that the three from LG IBM were no longer working there. The three former IBM Korea employees were convicted by a Seoul court in February, according to Reuters news agency. – Wall Street Journal September 15, 2004
The company was hit with a bribery scandal early this year. Former executives of IBM Korea have been jailed for bribing government clients and rigging bids, while officials of LG Electronics were fined. – Korea JoongAng Daily August 30, 2004
While these types of scandals weren’t unique to LG or IBM and weren’t likely directly related to the ending of the partnership, the details of these bribery scandals need to be read to be believed.
From 1998 to 2003, over $207,000 USD was paid in cash or gifts to officials by IBM-Korea and LG-IBM. These payments were delivered in large LG-IBM branded envelopes to shopping bags and exchanged in locations including but not limited to parking lots near the managers’ and officials’ places of work or home and on one occasion a parking lot of a local Japanese restaurant. All of these bribes were targeted at individuals making purchase decisions, ensuring that LG-IBM would win the contracts. These contracts were worth tens of millions of dollars leading to an “improper gift” of $9,546USD landing a contract valued at $1.3 million USD. IBM-China also had similar issues with bribery. For more details, see this document which outlines the details of these scandals.
There is a more likely reason for the end of the partnership beyond these issues.
During this time, IBM was in active talks with both Texas Pacific Group and Lenovo to sell off IBM’s PC division. Dell was also a contender for a brief amount of time. IBM CEO Samuel j. Palmisano the summer of 2004 was hammering out a complex deal with Yang Yuanqing (Lenovo) and it isn’t too hard to imagine that part of the preparations for negotiations would have involved complete ownership of control of all the markets IBM was present. This would be especially true for a purchasing company that was already established in that area. This would mean that LG-IBM would need to be renegotiated or simply cease to exist. It isn’t too hard to see which makes more sense to both parties to create a clean and tidy deal.
IBM would sell Lenovo PCs through its sales force and distribution network. IBM also would provide services for Lenovo PCs—and allow Lenovo to use the vaunted IBM brand name for five years. In turn, Lenovo, leveraging its connections with the government’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, would help IBM in the fast-growing China market. – The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer, Steve Hamm
So overall the historic deal between IBM and LG seemed to be mutually beneficial to both parties. IBM gained access to another market (under a different brand) and LG gained access to IBM’s information and experience. When it came time for IBM to sell its PC Division though, it was clear that IBM would need to distance itself from IBM-Korea and LG-IBM as quickly as possible to ensure that the scandals and exclusive access to the South Korean market wouldn’t sour any potential deal with an interested party.
But what about the penalties for the previously mentioned scandals? Who had to take responsibility?
Ultimately that would fall to IBM. While they didn’t own several of the assets that would have been involved, it makes no sense for the new owners to be fined for the mistakes of the previous owners.
On March 18, 2011, without admitting or denying the SEC‘s allegations, IBM consented to the entry of a final judgment that permanently enjoins the company from violating the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. In addition, IBM consented to pay disgorgement of $5,300,000, $2,700,000 in prejudgment interest, and a $2,000,000 civil penalty.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
It would appear the LG and ThinkPad story is not over yet. Fast forward to the year 2021 and it seems that LG might have run afoul with Lenovo with LG’s ThinQ branding coming a bit too close to the well-established Think branding they inherited from IBM. To read the case details, including court documents and its status, follow this link. or you can head right to the source at the United States Trademark and Patent Office.
While many people have heard of Moore’s Law, which I’ve discussed in a previous article, fewer might know about the potentially even more important Wirth’s Law.
Wirth’s Law states that software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware is becoming faster. A real-world example of this is illustrated below:
In a 2008 article in InfoWorld, Randall C. Kennedy, formerly of Intel, introduces this term using successive versions of Microsoft Office between the year 2000 and 2007 as his premise. Despite the gains in computational performance during this time period according to Moore’s law, Office 2007 performed the same task at half the speed on a prototypical year 2007 computer as compared to Office 2000 on a year 2000 computer.
This is one of the reasons that the RAM that got humanity to the Moon wouldn’t even be able to load a single tab in Chrome. The issue of software development is more complex than a direct comparison giving us all the answers and some even go as far as to call modern software ‘fatware.’ Have you ever stopped to think how much of the program that is in front of you, or hidden within the code is actually needed to do the job you are asking that program to do? Wirth pointed to both of these as being contributing issues to the expansion of software that didn’t have a significant increase in function. Did the above example take into account any significant feature changes between those two versions of Office? One point that should be mentioned of course is that some of those additional systems allow the software to be accessible to a greater number and diversity of users. That of course means more people are able to access the benefits of a computer and in a colder sense, you have more consumers for your product as a software developer.
Consider a basic computing task: word processing. The very first very of Microsoft Word came on a 3.5″ or 5.25″ diskette. Microsoft Word 6.0 came on seven diskettes, Word 95, 97 and 2000 on a CD. A modern Microsoft Office 365 install (admittedly containing Word, Excel and PowerPoint) is 4GB. That is a significant evolution of space required for an application to type words onto a computer. Now of course it isn’t quite that simple since the modern word processor has to do a few more things and has more features, but it is hard to imagine that the application truly utilizes all of the space it requires to its fullest potential. As an aside, OpenOffice is a 143.3MB install and LibreOffice that carries its torch is 332MB in size which really makes you wonder what is going on under the hood of both products that these differences are so vast. I doubt SmartArt support makes up the difference. A part of that is likely going towards Microsoft’s efforts to make its software as easy to use for as many different people as possible; that functionality has to come at a cost of resources.
If we compare that to Netscape Navigator 1.0 in 1994, it required 4MB of RAM. Jumping ahead to 2000, Netscape 6.0 required 64MB of RAM. Internet Explorer 1 required 8MB of RAM in 1995. Internet Explorer 6 in 2001 required 16MB of RAM. This jumped significantly in 2006 when Internet Explorer 7 required 64MB. We would see another significant jump with Internet Explorer 8 with 512MB on Vista and again with Internet Explorer 10 demanding 2GB.
Why is this? The short, oversimplified answer is the internet and the code that runs it is more complicated. In 1997 HTML 4 was brought in with CSS sheets and the rest was downhill with modern web browsers having to support streaming video, WebGL, XML documents and several other standards. In other words, we made the internet do more, so it needs more resources to run. Building all of this functionality in meant it was generally easier to use and provided more functionality but that will of course come at again at the cost of resources.
So how does this all stack up historically? Are we really using that much more resources? Well, the answer wasn’t as clear as I originally thought.
To examine this I picked a laptop from the time period and calculated rough percentages for the software and the demands it placed on the system.
IBM ThinkPad 360:
Released in 1994.
Max RAM: 20MB
Max HDD: 540MB
Resources used by Word 6.0: 4MB RAM, 25MB Disk Space or 20% of the RAM capacity and 4% of the HDD
Resources used by Netscape Navigator 1.0: 4MB RAM, 5MB Disk Space or 20% of the RAM capacity and 1% of the HDD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano:
Max RAM: 16GB
Max SSD: 1TB
Resources used by Office 365: 4GB RAM, 4GB Disk Space or 20% of the RAM capacity and 0.39% of the SSD
Resources used by Google Chrome: 128MB RAM (~per tab averaged), 100MB Disk Space or 0.78% of the RAM capacity per tab* and 0.010% of the SSD
*It is not common for a user however to just have a single tab open in a modern web browser so this percentage is often considerably higher. However, using the worst-case scenario from the chart above, it still doesn’t break the 20% mark on a higher-end system. It would be more significant on a mid-to-low-end system.
What conclusions can we draw from this easily? Not many as there are many factors that these statistics simplify. It would appear however we have programs that respect our advancement in storage media more than our RAM. Or our advancements in storage technology have outpaced our advancements in RAM. Perhaps an argument could be made the computer will show its age the fastest is the one with the least amount of RAM as there are limits on how much can be paired with each chipset. Another point to consider is how much software does the typical user actually actively use at any given time? Granted there are those of us with 40+ tabs, virtual machines, and various document and project editors open but we are not the majority.
Wirth’s Law might not always be true, but there is some merit to the underlying reasons that it was proposed in the first place. We are asking our software to do more than it has ever done before and computing tasks are growing more complex as the end-user demands more complexity in what is possible while at the same time lowering the bar of entry in terms of the knowledge required to do those tasks. The big question of course is, will it be worth it? Are the tradeoffs worth the cost in performance? With the possibility of our CPUs not getting much more complex according to Moore’s Law beyond the year 2025, is there going to be a renewed need for software optimization? Feel free to reach on to me on Twitter, I’d love you hear what you think.
Lenovo has been promoting this short trailer over the last few days and many believe it points to the teasing of a new X1 Fold.
After taking a look at the trailer a few times and snooping around, here are some possible reasons to look forward to the new X1 Fold and some of the technology that could be included. Keep in mind these are all varying levels of speculation.
Not the same size
There is reason to believe that the device teased in the trailer might actually be 16″ in size as opposed to the original. A Reddit post several months ago details devices called 21ES and 21ET (ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1) which implies the possibility of a larger size. This would allow for a full-size keyboard to be created and fit inside the device once it is folded if they are still going that route. The trailer also uses the words “next big thing” which could be a sly reference to the size of the device as well, but that is a reach.
The TrackPoint was a noticed absence from the original X1 Fold. I suspect that the keyboard was too thin or the screen durability having the TrackPoint next to it was a pain point. That or any working prototype was not a great experience. We do get an extreme close-up during the above video of a keyboard that does indeed feature a TrackPoint, but no wide shots hide its implementation.
A Butterfly Keyboard
There is a small chance, based on the patent filed a while back that this new device might have a butterfly-style keyboard along with the TrackPoint. The patent details that it was designed for a tablet device and would put an end to the problem of the Gen 1 having too small a keyboard. Maybe it will be part of a special 30th Anniversary edition? To learn more about that patent, see the article below. However, this isn’t likely needed if the 16″ rumour is true.
This article has been updated on 27 June 2021 to include new information. It appears last year Lenovo filed a new Butterfly-style keyboard patent and it was recently approved earlier this month by the US Patent Office. You can look it up on your own using the #11,029,723 and unsurprisingly it references John Karidis’ existing […]
A Screen that folds both ways
I went digging through the patent archives again and found US11294565 B2 (filed Aug 2020, date of patent Apr 5, 2022) which details a device with a folding screen bending backwards into a tent mode-like configuration. The only existing device that looks even remotely like this made by Lenovo is the X1 Fold. Could they have perfected the hinge and screen technology to the point where it can now flex back and forth? The still image from the trailer I used as the featured image for this article doesn’t appear to feature the folio style case that was integrated into the X1 Fold Gen 1 which might inhibit the integration of this feature.
No More Folio Case
It would appear given the one shot we get in the trailer of the back of the device, specifically the logo it showcases some kind of textured backing that is very close to the metal edge implying it is a thin coating. The ThinkPad and X1 logos seem to be made out of the same metal and are raised up from this surface.
Based on the image we get at the end of the trailer, the following also seems to be possible
On the left-hand side, we see a possible cut-out to allow for easier removal of the keyboard.
If the device is larger, better cooling/CPUs and longer battery life due to more space to put a battery are possible. We also see mention of Intel vPro in the trailer which isn’t available on the lighter-weight CPUs generally speaking.
Thinner bezels overall.
The volume rocker (and power button?) on the top right-hand side
One USB-C port is on the bottom left. (Likely another one on the top?)
There is something strange going on at the very bottom of the device where it appears the image extends beyond the bezel, not sure what that might be about.
Do you think the announcement is about the new X1 Fold? Do you think these ideas or others might be included in its release? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or the Contact page to share your ideas.
For those unfamiliar, Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.
In 2005, Moore stated that this projection cannot be sustained indefinitely and in 2016 the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors moved away from this style of road mapping. Moore further said that the Law that he helped develop would likely end around 2025.
So what does this have to do with laptops and computers?
Simple. It shows a fundamental and unnecessary need to purchase a brand new machine based on CPU performance alone, at least for the majority of users. One thing that has been made clear is, that outside of certain chip requirements like TPM 2.0 for Windows 11, some laptops that are over 12 years old are still fully capable of doing the tasks that their owners require them to do. That of course is before you introduce Linux into the equation which further extends the usefulness of some older hardware.
Even if you do require Windows 11 and need a TPM 2.0 chip to ensure it is officially supported, you are still left with 5 generations of CPUs that are able to meet those requirements.
Dell Latitude 7480/7490: Watch before you buy used...
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2: Tragedy meets Design
Lenovo ThinkPad E580: Overlooked Exceptional Value
HP Model 14 (CF0018ca): Suprisingly Repairable
Lenovo ThinkPad X280: A $500 (CDN) Ultrabook in 2022
Lenovo ThinkPad T14s: Carbon Flavoured T Series
Lenovo ThinkPad T480s: On the Cutting Edge of Ports
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano One Year Later
Razer Blade Stealth (2019) Two Steps Forward...
Lenovo ThinkPad E480: Modern Budget Windows 11 Warrior
Lenovo ThinkPad T580: The Bigger T480, now with Numpad
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet Gen 3: Continous Improvement
In recent years, one of the best things about CPU advancement has been power efficiency and the battery technology to support it. This is one of the reasons that laptops with 50Whr batteries can outlast their predecessors that had 99Whr batteries. But how much better are our CPUs for handling modern tasks? I would suggest outside of a very small group of people, the majority do not benefit directly and immediately from the incremental updates to chipsets that are currently taking place outside of video rendering technology (graphics cards) and even those advancements are likely debatable. We also have multiple cores now within a single CPU socket that, if the software is built to take advantage of, can lead to further performance gains but not usually at the scale we’d expect of two cores doing double what a single core would. That is a topic for another day.
Therefore it isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination that buying a used computer or laptop is actually viable. This was further exemplified at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting chip shortages. Used laptops increased in value not only because the supply of parts to assemble new ones was depleted, but older laptops were still capable of fulfilling their required role for many users. Again, there will always be the exception of those that need one of the new features coming in the latest Intel or AMD chipset, but for people who need a reliable computer for email, coding, document production and other tasks that older CPUs are more than capable of handling, it makes these processes more accessible to a wider audience and potentially help individuals take their next steps. I’ve had the pleasure over the years to read many comments on my channel about people doing exactly this; buying, finding or being gifted a cheap laptop to do the work that they needed to do and move forward.
All this taken together, the final message to deliver is that the majority of people don’t NEED a newer computer, they might WANT a newer one though. This could be based on a real or imagined need that the new piece of technology solved, but making that choice in part is a privilege that consumers shouldn’t take lightly. I’ve been using my used ThinkPad X220 since 2018 around the house running Linux for a variety of different tasks and it continues to perform admirably. To see my journey of upgrades and mods, see the playlist below.
If you want to see how far your dollars can stretch entering the world of used, quality hardware, I suggest this fantastic ThinkPad Price Guide to get you started.
Laptop design and manufacturing are incredibly complex, that goes without saying. In the last few years, there has been a renewed, more mainstream interest in repairability and laptops have become a topic of interest. This has led to the success of companies like Framework and existing companies highlighting the serviceability of their machines. This has also led to the interesting debate on how certain brands or lines seem to not care about this anymore. However, I think consumers might be looking in the wrong place for comparable machines.
When I opened a mid-range HP laptop a few months ago, I was greeted with several things:
M.2 NVMe Slot
2.5″ SATA Slot
Two RAM slots
USB-C on its own daughterboard
Replaceable trackpad and keyboard
The computer was built entirely of plastic and had a great selection of ports but it had solid internals with a decent set of possible upgrades and repairs. It wasn’t over thin but certainly not thick. This Lenovo ThinkPad E480 and E580, also mid-range machines were essentially the same stories:
I might suggest that we are currently looking in the wrong place for our repairables in the premium market, at least for the moment. I’ll expand later.
Premium machines are built with much better materials that are far more durable and luxurious. We also want our premium devices thin but not so expensive that they are priced out of the market. This creates an equilibrium that the consumer I believe rarely considers and is left wondering where did are repairable laptops went?
The answer is they never really left, they just moved down the street into the economic range of devices.
Products have a certain price range they need to stay within generally speaking. A company that makes a laptop that is consumer-grade really cannot expect the customer to spend more than a certain amount of money, same with a business consumer. Therefore it becomes a delicate balancing act where features that are desirable are put into a device up to a certain price point.
For example, business consumers care about durability, reliability and performance. Business machines can go through a lot of abuse and they still aren’t allowed to fail. If a product fails in a boardroom, it has the computer company logo on proud display, not good PR for the brand. Businesses often have higher performance needs than individuals. Upgrading isn’t really a concern of many modern businesses anymore; having removable drives is more of a security consideration than an upgrade feature. Some businesses are also going to care about presentation as they don’t want to be seen at the business meeting with an “old hunk of junk” or being a burden to a business process because of their failing hardware. Businesses often have to impress and let’s be realistic, computers are often part of the show.
Conversely, you can spend less on durability, reliability and performance on a consumer-grade machine. They are more likely to be careful with a device since they made a personal investment, an individual won’t hurt their reputation if something fails and performance demands are rarely as high as professionals. There are exceptions to this in the small business or freelance communities and these are often those that want their cake and eat it too. I believe those are the ones pushing most strongly for this new generation of repairables: high-performance machines with great build materials that can be repaired and upgraded. I’m one of those people.
The last two laptops I’ve used are both premium devices. Neither is really upgradable or easily serviced and that was a choice I made with my eyes wide open, but the other features won out. To me, this is a very interesting time for consumer electronics and I’m excited to see where the next few years will take it. I do believe that there is a demand for the best of both worlds: a premium device that has high levels of repairability and I believe that several companies are working towards that end. Time will tell if it is fiscally viable for the companies to produce these machines in the long term.
Chris Harjadi is a sophomore student studying cognitive science. The focus of his studies includes how computer science and psychology connect via virtual reality/”metaverse” applications, as well as learning about the philosophy and linguistics of computer systems. In the article below, Chris shares his thoughts on the relationship between making computers intuitive to use, thinness […]
Like a few articles on this website, this was inspired by a tweet by a friend of mine Dave Kennedy. Dave is right. ThinkPads have been sporting modular, repairable and swappable parts as part of their original bento-box style design. To see one of the finest examples of this, see the video below. There has […]
This post is a short accompanying piece to the recent video I released on the channel
In that video, David Hill shared with me the design concept that Richard Sapper put together to create a rugged or hardened ThinkPad. ThinkPads were already known for being more durable than the competition, but what if that was taken to the next level. Originally, when we were working on the video, there was only one photograph known to exist of the model that Sapper built that David posted on his Instagram years ago. No other images existed.
Thanks to David, we now have several images of the concept that Sapper built. Brian Leonard, the current VP of Design at Lenovo was kind enough to go into the archives and take some photographs of the model to help tell the story. They appeared in the video, but I have put them below for archival purposes.
Chris Harjadi is a sophomore student studying cognitive science. The focus of his studies includes how computer science and psychology connect via virtual reality/”metaverse” applications, as well as learning about the philosophy and linguistics of computer systems. In the article below, Chris shares his thoughts on the relationship between making computers intuitive to use, thinness and repairability. Feel free to reach out to Chris via email.
Would you like to contribute an article as a Guest Writer? Feel free to get in touch via the Contact button.
TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read): More and more nontechnical users are using laptops; they would prefer sending them to a repair shop over DIY repair, and the market share of DIYers in both corporate and consumer buyers is dwindling.
So far, I would say that IT businesses have shifted mostly from individuals who repaired laptops on an individual basis (ex, laptop repair much like the “do it yourself” ethos of PC builders) to being outsourced to bigger repair shops (ex, Staples, Office Depot, Insight, etc) in the corporate world, leading for businesses not to really care about the repairability of the machines they are manufacturing. After all, a broken laptop, in an employee’s eyes, is broken and will often be repaired by the “tech guy.”
Since computer manufacturers want to give the consumer what they want, a computer that is easy to repair is not often a priority. If their customers don’t care about the repairability of the device, then it means the manufacturer doesn’t normally either. This gives laptop manufacturers a stronger incentive to “lock up” their computers and make them less repairable because it isn’t as important as it used to be. On the design side, larger manufacturers over the years including Lenovo, Apple, HP, Dell and more, want to outdo each other in providing what the consumer wants. This often means thinner and lighter devices (what is valued) at the cost of repairability (not as valued).
I think it could be due to manufacturers targeting non-technical users by giving them a seamless and intuitive user interface/hardware interface. This marketing has been pushed rather strongly by Apple compared to the Microsoft/Windows laptop market. Over the years Apple made several ads showing the ease with which a computer could be used and Microsoft felt the pressure to create a similar experience for its users. This means the overall skill ceiling to use a computer becomes lower and accessibility is greater. These are both good things, but they come with a price.
Since the number of non-technical users has increased over the years, the DIY ethos has less and less of a market share, leading to manufacturers to cut costs, first soldering chips to the motherboard, then soldering the RAM later on. Even mainline ThinkPads, like the ThinkPad T490 and later, only have one user-replaceable RAM slot. Interestingly enough, this feature now appears on the L series, which is geared towards smaller business consumers that might need to make their machines work for longer periods of time in between upgrades, making this feature more desirable at this price point. This leads to a cycle where non-technical employees and consumers enjoy slimmer and slimmer laptops, while sacrificing tech-friendly features like maintenance hatches and easy to replace RAM. David Hill said it well in an interview segment featured on Laptop Retrospective:
“It’s not as utilitarian as it once was but some of the need for some of that stuff is not so great. It used to be really, really important to swap out batteries, the hardfile [hard drive] and all this stuff. It’s a slightly different world now and to make a computer like that would make it thicker, more expensive, more complicated, layers upon layers upon layers of materials. I think that kind of thing, that time has somewhat passed. There may be a market for some of that but it’s a smaller market.”
Businesses buy these laptops because they are in demand and the computer technicians can fix them quickly by swapping larger components wasting less time on diagnosis. When they run out of warranty, the hard-to-repair laptops flood the refurbished market every 2-3 years. Many computer enthusiasts prefer to buy used hardware because they have the skill and knowledge to have them run good as new. Interestingly, HP and Dell have kept many of these features in their business-class laptops, yet they have also had to put internal batteries in laptops.
On the ground, I see that most tech enthusiasts and people who like to tinker tend to talk about the right to repair (which is an important movement), while other non-technical users will get outside help. In the end, it mainly impacts people who buy refurbished units or old laptops on eBay or other retailers, while businesses and employees tend to be generally happy with using their work laptops. Though theFramework laptophas helped revive the right to repair discussion for laptops, its features are only appreciated by technology enthusiasts. In short, repairable features of laptops are only appreciated by tech enthusiasts, which are making up a smaller and smaller share of the laptop market.
Thanks again to Chris for putting this together. If you’d like to read more about this subject, you might be interested in the articles below.
Like a few articles on this website, this was inspired by a tweet by a friend of mine Dave Kennedy. Dave is right. ThinkPads have been sporting modular, repairable and swappable parts as part of their original bento-box style design. To see one of the finest examples of this, see the video below. There has […]
With the Commodore 64 turning 40 years old this year, this company couldn’t have announced their product at a more appropriate time or venue as the C64 was also announced at CES.
I’m talking about the Pentaform Abacus Basic, which is their answer to the question of how to give even more people access to a functional computer. This to me is a slick piece of kit because it has some excellent I/O, can run whatever OS you want (Pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux 18.04) and more impressively, use all sorts of hardware for your display. It can use a CRT TV, with adaptors, for example. That to me is really forward-thinking as many places that don’t have access to computers won’t have access to the latest display technology either.
The Abacus Basic, like the C64 and ZX Spectrum before it, takes the form of a keyboard and now, a touchpad. The specs of this machine are also respectable:
It’s energy-efficient, made from recycled plastics and ticks several more sustainability boxes. I also like the idea of the housing for the single-board computer can be removed from the keyboard and touchpad to be used wirelessly which further broadens the applications of this device. Pre-Orders are starting soon at £99.