I can't remember the last time a Consumer Electronics Show generated so much excitement around laptops and so little around everything else. CES 2020 will stand out for the transitional year it has been for laptops. There are three big trends that emerged from the products launched that could underline how the laptop segment itself will pan out in the coming years.
To start with, there was clear indication that foldable laptops are something technologically possible now; companies have been working on foldable laptops for a while. Lenovo announced the ThinkPad X1 Fold, the first laptop with a foldable screen. The company's team in Japan spent well over four years figuring out the best possible iteration of such a device. A lot of effort seems to have gone into getting the screen, the materials behind it, and the hinge right. For any foldable device, the hinge will be key. Although foldable screen phones are available, the hinge issue hasn't really been solved. "Smartphone makers have to just cater to open-and-closed. But for laptops you need to work on everything in between, as far as folding screen goes," says Yasumichi Tsukamoto, director & principal engineer, System Innovation Commercial Notebook Development at Lenovo.
Intel and Dell, too, showcased their concepts of foldable laptops, but both seem to have different takes on the hinge. Justin Lyles, vice-president of Consumer Design at Dell, says we are going to see more dual display devices first. "There's a lot of opportunity here. But we want to make sure we don't misstep in that space by rushing into it too quickly," Lyles is very clear. "So you will see us explore different sizes of bendable displays over the next couple of years. We are really going to test this with users in different ways to make sure there's real good value before we release that to the customer."
The other big transition seems to be happening with battery life. With the Yoga 5G announced last week, Lenovo is promising 24 hours of battery life! Almost unheard of when we think in terms of laptops. Lenovo APAC president Ken Wong says the day-long battery life is like a smartphone experience. "We think the technology is very convincing. And it's very sellable," he says, adding how we will now be talking of battery life in terms of days and not hours.
There is also a trend that devices are much thinner than before. Yes, they have been becoming thin for years, but not across price points. In late 2019, Asus and AMD got together to showcase many new thin laptops across price points. Even an entry-level laptop can now be thin, even a gaming device for that matter. At CES, both Lenovo and Dell had many extremely thin laptops to display. Flipkart has announced its first private label laptop, the Falkon Aerbook-extremely thin when you consider its sub-Rs 40,000 price point.
While Lenovo is pushing its new Legion devices for gamers with a very thin chassis, Lyles is not convinced that thin and gaming are meant to go together, just yet. "A gaming device is not a thin Ultrabook-type device because the power required is much larger. It is a thicker, heavier device," he underlines. But across CES it was clear that gaming devices could become much thinner.
Also, AI is becoming more integral to laptops by optimising battery life based on usage, ensuring the laptop is locked when it's not in use, and even blurring the background while you make video calls. You will see more of these optimisations in devices launched this year.
Beyond these is the impending 5G revolution. While we all know it is coming, we don't know how it will play out. If 5G gives a huge bump to interactive, immersive experiences, we could see the laptop space heading towards another big pivot. But it is too early to take that call. For now, everyone is talking about 5G in terms of more download speeds, but this new technology could also let devices push all processing power to the cloud, unlocking themselves from issues of power and battery life. That could truly be a whole new world.