Lenovo used CES 2020 to officially unveil ThinkPad X1 Fold, the foldable PC that has been four years in development and through six designs and will launch in the second half of 2020, starting at $2,499.
Also: More CES coverage at CNET
At enterprise and strategy events, Lenovo has teased the foldable PC (in 2019 and 2017) but declined to give timelines. Now Lenovo says it is ready to launch a ThinkPad with folding OLED display. The ThinkPad X1 Fold could also give businesses more mobility options as they navigate foldable phones, tablets, and convertible devices.
Christian Teismann, president of Lenovo's commercial PC and smart device business, said the company has been looking for new form factors for years starting with its Yoga franchise. "A PC is only usable for full productivity at a certain size, about 12- to 13-inches," explained Teismann. "We ultimately came back to something fundamental like a book form factor in business."
The big challenge was developing a foldable device that could span the 3- to 5-year lifecycle and usage of a PC. Teismann said the first working sample was handed out about a year ago and added that the ThinkPad brand could continue to evolve.
The ThinkPad X1 Fold will start at $2,499, but exact pricing will be revealed closer to the second half 2020 launch date. Teismann said that the ThinkPad X1 Fold would be available for order early in the second half of 2020 with shipments in the middle of the second half. If that timing holds, Lenovo will be shipping its X1 Fold about the same time as Microsoft debuts its Neo and Duo devices.
Among the key points:
What remains to be seen is whether Lenovo can avoid the hiccups that have plagued foldable smartphones and similar devices. Samsung, Huawei, and Lenovo's Motorola have all had to put off foldable smartphone launches due to durability concerns and glitches.
Lenovo argued that it has put in the development time, iterated and been through four primary designs for the X1 Fold. Ultimately, Lenovo went with a 4x3 ratio and a 13.3-inch display. The pOLED (plastic OLED) screen is delivered via a partnership with LG Display.
"You need strong partnerships, and we began working with LG Display on this one three years ago. We also had deep engagement with Intel," said Teismann.
And then there are the hinges, mechanical parts, and engineering challenges. Given Lenovo's heritage in laptops, it understands hinges, testing, and reliability, so there's a possibility that the X1 Fold's core selling point won't be a tech issue.
Nevertheless, Lenovo has to convince business buyers that the X1 Fold has the same reliability as the ThinkPad lineup overall. Officials noted that Lenovo worked through six hinge designs with 20 different variations. Ultimately, Lenovo went with a hinge that uses lightweight alloys with a carbon fiber reinforced frame.
The pOLED display has also been tested extensively for taps, tracing, and drops.
While the ThinkPad X1 Fold is enticing, it remains to be seen how it is ultimately used. Teismann describes use cases such as video conferencing in the top half of the screen and using the pen to take notes at the bottom. There are also interesting screen arrangements and docking options going forward.
Mobile workers will ultimately determine how the ThinkPad X1 Fold is used. Use cases will likely be a blend of work and play. "There is just no one enterprise use case anymore. The next generation that selects Windows wants a device for business scenarios and private uses," said Teismann.
Other items to monitor as foldable devices roll out in 2020.