In today’s new “work from anywhere” remote environment, the office became wherever employees had connected devices. However, many small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do not have the technology they need for optimum productivity across teams. By listening to customers and conducting extensive research, Lenovo’s SMB engineering team set out to create a device that would support the new way of work and play.
As the SMB Product Executive Director at Lenovo, AG Zheng and the team were instrumental in developing our latest ThinkBook and the world’s first ultrawide 17” display. Read our Q&A with AG for more insights on the seamless transitions between multiple modes and experiences in the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 and key learnings from designing a new type of notebook PC, focused on the needs of small businesses.
Q: How does the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 fit the needs and expectations of modern SMB and Gen Z professionals?
A: Throughout the last two years, employees worldwide have embraced a new reality of work from anywhere. This required rethinking technology that drives productivity while maintaining a healthy balance. As a result, we have collectively refocused on workplace ecosystems to address the needs of different users based on their location and mobility. Often a productive workplace would consist of a laptop/desktop, a display and associated accessories. For highly mobile users, whether that is within a campus or more distributed, such a workplace is impractical. ThinkBook Plus Gen 3 with its ultrawide display and a secondary screen next to the keyboard offers a unique perspective allowing users to extend their workspace and increase efficiency without the need for external devices. Furthermore, the unique appearance satisfies Gen Z’s desire to stand out and express themselves and their individuality through an innovative piece of technology.
Q: What inspired Lenovo to create a ThinkBook with a screen embedded next to the keyboard?
A: Customer insights suggested multiple split screens and a pen-enabled second display were appealing concepts, ideal for many practical use cases. Employees that participate in many video conferences with presentations and frequently take notes, engage in instant messaging, or conduct heavy data analysis would benefit from such a form factor. For SMBs, it’s important to have a seamless transition from keyboard to touchpad so we strategically placed the second display next to the keyboard for a natural transition. In an era of interconnected hybrid workplaces, our phone screens, tablets, monitors, etc., must play a role in extending functionality to allow seamless multitasking, collaboration and productivity.
Q: What were the design challenges the team had to overcome to create this unique product, if any?
A: The challenges are not just in design and engineering, but more importantly usability. Of course, adding an 8-inch second display posed certain opportunities for creativity, namely how to manage internal cabling and ensuring durability for an ultrawide notebook, while also offering high performance with 12th Gen Intel Core H-Series CPUs. One particular area we focused on is the hinge mechanism and tension, to ensure durability as well as the ability for one-handed opening, a crucial usability function for laptops with a wide display.
We believe that 14-inch is a sweet spot for laptop productivity. Designing a 14-inch laptop with full-size keyboard, and then adding an 8-inch “portrait” display next to it perfectly matched a 17.3-inch mechanical chassis and display. We also worked hard to ensure usability through two displays. In fact, we further added to the design by creating the option to have three screens within two displays, achieved through clever software management and integration with Windows 11. Figuring out how to transition from screen to screen flawlessly was a top priority for the team and worth the challenge to provide extended functionality for our customers.
Q: The future of work demands mobility; how does having a second screen embedded into one device enable and empower hybrid work and overall productivity for SMBs?
A: Extending functionality will be key in supporting employees as they work through new and sometimes challenging environments. Companies must prioritize new technology that caters to specific worker needs that will help businesses meet the particular demands of their workforce. For example, SMB employees can seamlessly multitask when working with larger screen real-estate without having to switch between applications. The interactive function between two screens and the excellent software experience can also help to improve the employee’s office efficiency. These ultrawide displays allow for more engaging collaboration with full-width conferencing including a chat window. Additionally, a second screen can enable note-taking, quick-launch utilities such as the calculator, or even smartphone mirroring to improve multitasking and synergy across devices.
Q: How does Lenovo continue to innovate and consistently create fresh, forward-thinking products with each new device?
A: Lenovo has four decades of innovation heritage. We are continuously pushing the boundaries by designing and engineering ground-breaking products that power intelligent transformation to help people solve humanity’s greatest challenges. Our commitment to innovation is long-standing and our goal to be a global leading technology powerhouse is relentless. Lenovo has 17 research & development (R&D) locations worldwide and one in five employees engaged in R&D, but we’re just getting started. We have committed to doubling R&D investment over the next 3 years and hiring an additional 12,000 R&D staff by 2024. Our innovation culture encourages risk-taking, indulges failures by pursuing solutions, and awards successful experiments.
Q: What did you and the team (including engineers, designers, technicians, partners, etc.) learn throughout the process of creating the ThinkBook Plus Gen 3?
A: The team was reminded of the value of user pre-testing to better understand user preferences, which is very helpful during product planning. Through extensive research and listening to our customers’ needs, Lenovo’s engineering team set out to make a ThinkBook that is designed for work, play and the time in-between. To provide the most efficiency with the addition of the third screen the team prioritized doing more with less. Through user testing as well as careful design and engineering we learned how to enable more speed, more collaboration and more creativity with less hardware and machinery to provide the flexibility needed to support a device workforce.
Q: What advice would you offer to SMB leaders who want to equip their employees with modern technology to scale and future-proof their organizations?
A: The key to SMB success as we all navigate this new way of work will be to supply their employees with technology that is useful throughout the day in a wide variety of modes. Here are three critical elements SMB leaders must consider when looking for multifunctional devices to increase collaboration and help their business grow:
- Assess new functional designs that best support a diversified workforce, whether it’s trailblazing devices such as foldable PCs or multi-display laptops, or more mainstream laptops with configurations to suit different user needs.
- As teams become more dispersed, it’s critical to have the right technology to keep participants connected and engaged. From AI-assisted video and audio collaboration that delivers the best sound and video performance, to the latest connectivity to maximize bandwidth in congested or remote areas, SMB leaders must ensure stable and reliable connections for their team.
- Invest in flexible and portable devices to unleash your teams’ full capabilities. SMBs must offer smarter multitasking and deliver accessible technology to support business continuity for long-term success. Their devices must be portable and durable to match their flexible lifestyles.
Q: What is your greatest source of optimism about technology and the future of work?
A: Individual resilience is the greatest source of optimism. Match that resilience with smart technology that empowers individuals to work towards a greater purpose and many tech companies will see collective success, regardless of varying customer bases. Combining technology with the future is innovation, and innovation can create infinite possibilities for the future. It’s vital that more companies build sustainable, accessible and inclusive hardware and software to ensure their solutions are driving the most impact for consumers.
SMB employers should approach talent recruitment and retention within the same strategic framework as technology evaluation. A key factor in attracting new employees and retaining existing ones is flexibility, and technology is a key element in the recruitment framework. Inclusive devices can offer new employees flexibility while remaining productive wherever they are. Making these strategic decisions and investments will drive positive dividends for the future.