Approximately 600 Lenovo partners recently reported to Las Vegas for battle training. Frequently referring to "hand-to-hand combat," showing videos of Lenovo crushing competitors in a monster truck, and detailing its “plan of attack” on the likes of HP and Dell, Lenovo's Accelerate 2013 partner conference felt more like a mission briefing inside the Pentagon's war room.
The energy and determination coming from Lenovo badge holders was thick enough to cut with a knife. And with as much as the ThinkPad maker has going for it, it's easy to see why. Lenovo is riding high on its fourth year with big increases in revenue and market share, as well as taking large strides outside its bread-and-butter notebook space and into servers, workstations, and services. The company's channel programs and reseller network have never been stronger, and its product lineup has never looked better. To top it all off, Lenovo enjoyed a healthy 13 percent gain in the same quarter in which every other major PC maker (and the entire PC industry) declined.
Lenovo recognizes the opportunity to move up the ranks to become the dominant PC maker by 2014, capitalizing on HP's short-lived exit from the PC market and Dell's business troubles as it attempts to move back to private ownership. The strategy Lenovo is following puts it in a good position to do just that.
VIEW FROM THE TOP
"We're still strong believers in the traditional PC. We're investing a lot in that," says Jay Parker, president of Lenovo North America. "As funny as it sounds, that's perhaps unique in our business right now. We also understand that there's a transition happening, especially to more mobile devices, whether that be tablets or smartphones. We ultimately need to win in that space in addition to the PC space. That's where we're going as a company and spending a lot of our time and energy right now."
Looking at the company's products, a lot of that energy has been spent in research and development. Lenovo isn't just following the likes of Apple and Samsung into slate tablets, for instance, but innovating with the idea that you don't have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Listening to industry experts over the years, you would believe the PC has been dead or dying for well over a decade. But Lenovo (correctly) sees the PC as a concept, not something etched in stone. The PC continues to survive by being ultimately flexible, its evolving platform continually adapting to current market desires. Lenovo is proving the PC can be successful in the post-PC era.
The ThinkPad lineup, for example, has a long history of incorporating tablet/PC convertible models, and recently complemented the traditional twist-and-fold design (like the ThinkPad Twist: http://bit.ly/10SVxyd) with products that bend in half, like the surprisingly successful IdeaPad Yoga. Notebook-first form factors will continue to sell, but Lenovo's secret weapon is called Helix. Oddly enough, the company didn't realize what kind of super-weapon Helix was going to be until recently. What was initially expected to be another good product in the company's lineup is turning out to be one of the biggest game-changers in the PC industry this year.
THE HELIX ULTRABOOK
The Helix offers the full x86 PC experience, sporting a Core i5 or i7 processor, large amounts of RAM, and solid-state storage. At first glance, it looks like a regular clamshell Ultrabook. However, unlike most PCs, all the guts in the Helix are crammed into the display. With the press of a button, the display comes off and operates as a performance tablet with full digitizer, five-hour battery life, and a variety of built-in ports.
The dock is more than a keyboard though, as both the display and base contain a battery. Combined, they offer 10 hours of battery life, and the base is intelligent enough to discharge first when connected while topping off the tablet battery at the same time. Like other products in Lenovo's convertible line, it can be used in notebook, tent, presentation, or tablet mode when connected to the base - what Lenovo calls “Tablet Plus.”
Based on our limited hands-on time at the partner conference, Helix appears to be the first no-compromise laptop/tablet combo to hit the market, but we're looking to go in-depth with it as soon as review units are available. Some may argue that Microsoft's Surface Pro takes that distinction, but as good as its keyboard covers are, the Surface Pro is a compromised experience when used as a traditional PC. Helix is 99 percent of the way there. Helix 2, which we would expect sometime in 2014, will ship with Intel's fourth-generation Core processors and have improved battery life when not docked.
Simply put, Lenovo is being more aggressive than any other PC maker, creating innovative and competitive solutions in not just mobile PCs, but also servers with its ThinkCentre line, workstations with the ThinkStation line, and soon NAS storage with its upcoming Lenovo-EMC branded products. The company also has compelling small-form-factor hardware, dubbed Tiny. Check out our review at http://bit.ly/18Ujqb7.
Perhaps most important, Lenovo drives more than 80 percent of its business through the channel, and is offering some incredible, stackable programs that can make selling hardware profitable (seriously, don't laugh), particularly with servers and workstations.
The company's competitors aren't going to just wave a white flag, of course, but consider this your invitation to take another look at how the companies - and their offerings - stack up. Lenovo's army has serious momentum, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon. I hear it's taking on new recruits, too.