How the ‘best laptop ever’ took a bite out of Apple
From continent to continent, coast to coast and riverbank to riverbank – groundbreaking discoveries only come when great minds take great risks.
“We have to cross the river.”
These were the words of Arimasa Naitoh, the father of the ThinkPad, in the early 2000s. He told his engineering team that following their passion project to its new home, Lenovo, was more than a good idea. It was vital.
They wanted to make a statement. They settled on something that at the time was revolutionary — a sleek, lightweight ThinkPad with an optimal screen for watching video that would clock in at less than one inch thick.
The team sent sketches to their partners across the globe every day until they found the perfect design, which elevated three key technologies for the first time. A solid-state disk drive made the laptop uncompromising in its speed and unprecedented in its compact size. An LED backlit screen made a movie theatre of a slim, portable machine. An ultra-thin DVD drive made the laptop the first ever to boast a 7mm optical disc drive.
Like their first leap of faith, it was risky. If one of the elements failed, the whole project could be deemed a failure.
The new ThinkPad, dubbed the X300, weighed 3.1 pounds. It was astonishingly light and thin, with the tools to drive a cutting-edge business and delight a casual user. It was an entire arsenal of warships disguised as a yacht.
But just ten days before manufacturing began in early 2008, Steve Jobs unveiled the MacBook Air. He called it “the world’s thinnest notebook,” and demonstrated in a commercial how it could fit seamlessly in a manila envelope.
In a flurry described in a 2008 Business Week article, then-vice president of the ThinkPad unit Peter Hortensius heard the news and yelled to his administrative assistant, “Phyllis! Get me one of those interoffice mail envelopes!”
To his relief, the X300 fit. It was similar in size, but beat out the MacBook Air in nearly every capacity: It even had an integrated fingerprint reader, wide-area network Internet access, three USB ports and a built-in DVD drive.
The team went head-to-head with Apple and created an iconic advertisement that illustrated how the ThinkPad had all of the MacBook Air features built in, and more. Critics dubbed it the “best laptop ever.” They had made their name on the world stage, forged the path for innovations to come, and truly crossed the river.