Lenovo gets smart

2016 saw the launch of the groundbreaking Lenovo Yoga book among other products for the company. Jonathan Easton speaks to Lenovo’s director of product marketing Philip Oldham about what the company showed off at CES and what it has up its sleeves next.

How was CES?

It’s been another great year for us at CES. We are up to 58 awards, so another great awards haul for us this year coming off the back of IFA where we already got a significant amount of awards there. It’s extremely exciting that we’re able to bring new and innovative products to the market that are really capturing people’s attention. All of UK retail still goes, so it’s a great way for us to meet up with a lot of our retail partners over a short few days.

I think the new launches we had at CES can be put into five key categories. We launched some new B2B products, some new gaming products, a new detachable product and we, excitingly, launched some smart home devices and VR products. 

Talk us through Lenovo Legion and the company’s decision to get into gaming.

It is a big growth market and it’s a market where the users are particularly discerning about the quality and the level of technology used within the products. It always has to be the latest and best graphics card, the latest and fastest memory, hard drive, SSD – all those kinds of things. I always think of it rather like many other hobbies like golf or photography. Once you get into it, you want to buy the best kit you can afford – even if you’re not that good yourself. If I’d want to go and play golf I’d get the best golf clubs I could afford, even though the level of my golf game does not warrant those clubs whatsoever. I think to a certain extent there’s that in gaming. There’s a real drive towards getting up to date with technology in order to give gamers a better chance of being successful in the games they play. 

We’ve launched a new brand for our gaming range called Legion by Lenovo. As part of that range, we’ve now got a full range of products going right the way from the traditional gaming tower to a new gaming Cube product that’s almost like a portable tower for people who want to do a LAN party but still want the flexibility of a desktop chassis. We’ve even brought out a gaming all-in-one product where everything is built into the monitor for people who don’t want the cumbersomeness of a physical tower. 

What we launched at CES were our new clamshell devices: the Y920, the Y720 and Y520. What’s exciting for us, particularly on the 720 is that we are the first product to market with Dolby Atmos sound. It’s exciting for us to be first to market with Atmos. On the Y920 we go up to 64GB of memory, and we’ve even got internal water cooling. It’s got all the usual stuff like overclockable CPU, intelligent LAN Wi-Fi, backlit keyboards and all that kind of good stuff that the gamers love. A lot of development has gone into our gaming products. We’re really excited about the range we’re offering and the level of power and graphics that is available now because it gives a really awesome experience.

You also earlier mentioned smarthome devices which were undoubtedly a big part of CES 2017.

Yes, the last few years have seen that part of the market really booming. It’s been a big focus area of consumer electronics for a while and Lenovo has set up a separate business unit that’s all about incubating new technology start ups, new ideas and new innovative products to make sure that we continue to innovate across not just our PC business but also smart home and cloud devices. We are acutely aware that this part of the market is going beyond hardware. It’s all about device and cloud, interactivity, and giving users the best experience. 

As a result of this, we’re launching our own smart devices. These are being launched in North America to begin with but we are gauging interest in the UK for a potential UK launch later in the year. The two key devices we launched at CES were the Lenovo Smart Assistant and the Lenovo Smart Storage.

The Smart Assistant is a product that is based around the Alexa technology. Essentially it’s a connected device with eight far-field microphones built into it so it can do a 360-degree pickup of a voice up to five metres away. It gives you the opportunity to get info, control devices around the home, order your pizza, order an uber. Whatever you want to do essentially. We’re launching two levels of this device. The standard level, in three separate colours, and a premium Harman Kardon speaker edition as a higher-end product. 

If you look at how these products are built up, a lot of what’s inside is computer based. You’ve got an atom processor in there, you’ve got 2GB of RAM, 8GB of storage. It’s practically a small computer and that fits right into Lenovo’s product development and manufacturing strengths.

The second smart product we launched was our Smart Storage device which is effectively a NAS drive. It, again, plays into our strengths with the onboard computing power, celeron processor, 2GB of RAM, Wi-FI and 6TB SATA HDD, and it has some really cool features. For example, it will automatically organise your photos through face detection so the onboard computing power can sort through the photos and identify the same people in photos and organise them itself. You can remotely access the drive, and there’s autosync facilities so it can actually auto backup data from your phone or tablet and then file that by the type of content within the backup. 

We’re launching these first in North America and gauging interest for a UK launch. 

Why is it that, after Siri, Google’s assistant and Cortana amongst others, Alexa has suddenly become the platform that has spread?

The key to success to all of these things is the inter-operativity with other systems, applications and devices. The reason why we’re working with Alexa is partly down to the number of APIs and agreements they’ve got with other apps and other companies is such that it makes it a very useful device. Being cloud-based, these apps are being added all the time. The breadth of functionality you get is extremely good and that’s what makes or breaks these types of products. If you’ve got a smart assistant and you find it only works with a small number of devices or a small number of external suppliers that you might use at home then it only has very limited attraction. But as soon as you start to ramp that up and have more companies and devices that are working with your product then you start to get a real breakthrough. 

Google remains a strong partner with us and you’ll see more Google partnership devices in this smart area over the next year from Lenovo for sure as well.

How has the Yoga Book done and has it met your expectations?

Yoga Book has probably even surprised us with our expectations in terms of sales, the user feedback and the customer experience that we’ve been witnessing. I think it’s really surpassed all of our expectations. We’ve only been selling this product since September 2016 and we’ve already done over half a million units globally in terms of sales. 

It won an award at CES – the CES Best of Innovation award this year – and a lot of people are excited because there has been a lack of innovation in the PC/Laptop market and the Yoga Book has really been seen as a groundbreaking device. 

As a really strong companion device people have found that it’s really flexible and easy to use. I even use one myself for meeting notes and travelling, and I find it a really useful product. 

Which version – Android or Windows – are people gravitating towards?

It’s really interesting because we’ve seen a difference based on the country. 

Globally it’s 50:50. In the UK to date it’s more like 60:40 towards Windows.

People at the start have been associating this device as a Windows laptop for travelling, and that at the beginning is what has pushed the Windows OS quite strongly. Having said that, I’ve used both devices and the proposition on Android is also very strong, especially for people who use Android-based phones. The familiarity with Android plus all the apps you’ve got for note taking and productivity, means that it’s a really strong option as well. And, of course, it’s slightly cheaper than the Windows-based one as well, so I expect it to rebalance in the UK. 

Can you give us any insight into the future of the Yoga Book?

Without going into any secrets, I think it doesn’t take a genius to work out the type of direction we might go in with this product. It’s a very successful form factor and people are really enjoying the fact that it’s very very thin, very light and it has the Yoga hinge that you can flip round into a 360 mode. I think it would be very strange if anybody didn’t expect to see more variations of this product coming out in the next year. And certainly this side of Christmas I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to be launching more developments moving on from our original Yoga Book.

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