Innovation message highlights Lenovo channel announcements at CES

For the channel, major announcements around the X1 Fold notebook and the Yoga 5G will initially be more about showing customers a cutting edge than selling them a product, but some less splashy Smart Office announcements will bring a more direct return.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold

This week at CES 2020, Lenovo made a flurry of announcements on both the commercial and consumer sides of their business.  While most of the announcements have some channel interest, it would not be accurate to say that they will all directly put much money in partners’ pockets when they come to market. They are important, however, for the channel, because they allow the company to credibly claim technology leadership, with the announcements of the first 5G-enabled notebook and the first ever foldable notebook.

“The headline here is continued innovation,” said Rob Cato, Lenovo’s Vice President, NA Channel. “That DNA and culture benefits channel partners because Lenovo is investing heavily and creating strong momentum for their customers. It’s not one product here that does them. It’s all of them combined.”

The most interesting Lenovo announcement at CES was likely the ThinkPad X1 Fold, the world’s first foldable PC. Lenovo actually announced this at their Accelerate event in Orlando last May, and did a demo from the stage. Now, however, it has a name, fully defined features, a release timeframe, and a price – a rather high price.

The X1 Fold is a fully functional laptop with a 13.3-inch folding OLED display. Its lightweight alloys and carbon fibres give it a weight of less than 2.2 pounds. It has an advertised battery life of around 12 hours, and is slated to be available from mid-2020, with a starting price of $USD 2,4993.

“This is an extremely innovative product, which we announced in Orlando last year, and which comes from our strategy of bringing products to market based on feedback,” Cato said. “This is targeted at users who frequently switch between phone and laptop.”

Despite its ability to fold to close to a phone’s form factor, it is not actually a phone, although it does have 5G capability.

“I use my phone for Skype and FaceTime and this will allow you to do just that,” Cato indicated. “5G will provide some wireless-type functions.”

While the X1 Fold is ultimately aimed at both the consumer and commercial markets, out of the gate, the price point will likely see sales be mainly to enthusiasts.

“It is for the early adopter user who will be comfortable with that price point,” Cato said. “I don’t see it flying off the shelves of channel partners.  But it’s exciting for us to be able to introduce something far ahead of our competitors. It doesn’t  get any more revolutionary than that. We have demoed this at a number of different shows with partners where we have booths. It draws buzz. It draws attention, and this lets partners talk about other things. It’s gone from a concept on a stage to an actual real product that customers can touch and feel. The sale is also not just the device but also a suite of accessories for different modes , such as keyboards, stands and other accessories. It will give the channel more opportunity to sell other things, as well as services capabilities around it.”

The other ‘first’ announcement at CES is the Yoga 5G, the first 5G PC to come to market outside of the smartphone form factor. An ultra-portable 2-in-1 laptop, it is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx 5G Compute Platform, which is also a first for a PC. The Yoga 5G will be available in Spring 2020, starting at $USD1,499.

It will not initially be a commercial product, however.

“We are continuing Lenovo’s culture of making sure we have the most innovative products on the market, and this will do that by being able to take advantage of 5G,” Cato noted. “Its main impact will certainly be more in the future. But 5G is available in 31 cities in the US, and is stronger than that in some other markets, like China. The projection is that by 2021 5G will be 14% of the market across the US. We want to have the right products available. That’s why 5G is not in our commercial products yet, but we are looking at the roadmap for that, and getting feedback on things like user interfaces.”

Another creative announcement is the ThinkBook Plus – a 13.3 inch laptop with e-ink display on the cover. It syncs with Windows 10 apps like Calendar and Email, do calls on Skype, or take notes with a Precision Pen, all while the computer itself if closed. The ThinkBook Plus will be available from March 2020, starting at $USD 1,1993.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook is a 2-in-1 detachable chromebook with a thin and light design that will be available in May, although it’s not a commercial product, but a consumer one aimed at the lifestyle market. Cato said that some education Chromebook announcements will, however, be coming shortly after CES.

For most partners, the news with the most direct financial return will likely be two announcements within Lenovo’s Smart Office portfolio. ThinkSmart Manager provides the ability to manage a large number of devices with a cloud-based management platform, while ThinkSmart View is a mobile computing device on a Qualcomm APQ8053 system-on-chip platform that is optimized for Microsoft Teams collaboration software.

“These are enhancements to products we already have, which are important because more partners are looking on collaboration tools and hardware as an augmenting of traditional PC space,” Cato stated. “Lots of companies are using collaboration tools to create a whole new office environment, and are going through that transition from traditional office spaces.” ThinkSmart Manager is available now. ThinkSmart View is expected to be available starting January 2020, starting at $349 or $449 with a ThinkPad X1 ANC Bluetooth Headset.

“We are also working on a new Lenovo Partner Hub which will be our portal, and which will be persona-based,” Cato added. “A person’s interface will depend on what they do in the company, with dashboards which track against specific roles – owner, sales and technical. Partners will also be able to submit pricing such as against a direct deal from a competitor. There will also be new training and gamification, and a lot of new enablement we are working on, which will take digitalization to the next level.”

Look for the portal in the summer, Cato said. It might well coincide with this year’s Accelerate partner event, which is June 16-19 at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

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