Designed to surprise: the ThinkPad metamorphosis of 1995
The year 1995 was revolutionary for the tech world. A little known company called Amazon.com sold its first book on a newly launched site, while the online dating scene took its initial steps into uncharted territory with Match.com. It was also the year the ThinkPad development team completely transformed the perception of what a laptop could look like with the 701C — a notebook that replaced repetitive ideas with surprising innovation.
While change was definitely in the air, the industry was stagnant in one particular area. When it came to laptops, by the early 90s, almost everyone was selling the same clamshell design. Notebooks varied little outside of opening up to a screen on top with an equally sized keyboard on bottom. The problem with this setup, however, was that laptop screens were quite small at the time, meaning keyboards had to be just as compact, cramping up room to type.
Inspired while playing with building blocks with his daughter, the brilliant designer hatched an idea that would soon become the ThinkPad 701C’s butterfly keyboard. Noticing how two triangular blocks could slide together and change the aspect ratio of a rectangle, he knew he’d cracked the code. The next day at work, after throwing his ThinkPad on a copy machine, he took a pair of scissors and cut the outline on the diagonal. The rest, as they say, is iconic history.
With this incredible discovery, Karidis managed to fit a full-sized keyboard of 11.5 inches into a smaller laptop of 9.7 inches. Split in two pieces, the butterfly keyboard smoothly comes together and expands out like wings when being used and then separates and contracts back when the lid is closed.
Quickly becoming a crowd favorite, the unconventional notebook garnered massive amounts of press and was even featured in a James Bond film. By capturing people’s imagination, the ThinkPad 701C moved up the ranks as the top-selling laptop of 1995. And even though the demand was short-lived as larger screens soon entered the market enabling bigger keyboards, the impact of the butterfly can still be felt to this day.
In a technological metamorphosis of sorts, the unique feature set a new tone for the industry, encouraging companies to dedicate resources to enhance the user experience. Even more so, the butterfly keyboard completely changed the way people felt about laptops, evoking an emotional connection with the ones who owned it. It was groundbreaking and innovative, yet it was practical – a way of thinking that has moved forward even with the ThinkPads of today.