Lenovo unveils new tablets on Windows, Android

Biding its time, China-based Lenovo Group Ltd. has waited until July 2011 to announce its first entries into the global tablet market. While it first debuted the LePad slate device in China earlier this year, the ThinkPad and IdeaPad, aimed at business and consumer groups respectively, will debut in Canada starting in August.

Stefan Bockhop, channel sales director for Lenovo Canada, said the decision to make two distinct product lines of tablets came both from research with Lenovo customers and marketplace observation. While the ThinkPad will only be offered in Android’s purpose-built 3.1, or “honeycomb” environment, the IdeaPad can be purchased in either Windows 7 or Android SKUs.

Toronto-based independent technology analyst, Carmi Levy, thinks this may be a bit of a misstep. He said “they’re trying to cover all bases, but they may end up stretching themselves too thin in the process. The market has already spoken, and tablets based on gussied up conventional operating systems like Windows 7 are niche products at best. Purpose-built operating systems like iOS, Android 3.1 (and up) and webOS represent the tablet market’s mainstream future.”

Bockhop said this move stems from a Lenovo belief that “one size doesn’t fit all.”

Android 3.1, he said, is “very much an operating system that’s optimized for that touch environment, for that lower-powered, portable device market.” “That was one of the key reasons why now is the right time for us to launch these products, because we felt strongly that the user experience delivered by the Android 3.1 operating system was the right experience to couple with our brand.”

But, he said, “we don’t feel that one size fits all. We don’t think you can say, ‘if you would own a slate device from Lenovo, you must use Android or you must use Windows.’” Bockhop said that Lenovo wants to provide users who are more comfortable in the Windows 7 environment an option too.

He also said that, with the two Android tablets, “we are the first honeycomb-base or Android 3.1 device, to integrate Netflix into the device. So, native support for Netflix and coupling that with digital rights management, it allows the tablet to stream and share information to a big screen TV through a full HDMI output.”

That functionality is present in both the ThinkPad and the Android-equipped IdeaPad. Bockhop said this was intentional as, “all those corporate users, all those enterprise users out there are still consumers when they’re not wearing their suits, when they’re not in the office.”

He also felt strongly that some of the other, less tablet-style features, like the integrated ins and outs, make the Lenovo line unique. “It’s very apparent in our conversations with our customers and in the marketplace that these devices are coupled as companions to other devices. So, having a standard SIM card port, having a standard SD card reader, having a micro HDMI output so you can (use video out)  to that TV you own, is obvious to us. These should be core offerings in these slate-type devices,” he said.

This puts the ThinkPad and IdeaPad at odds with arguably the biggest player in the tablet game, the iPad. The iPad only offers the 30-pin proprietary Apple connection and a headphone jack.

Lenovo hasn’t neglected its business clients either as the ThinkPad is equipped with what Bockhop calls features that are “must have” for these environments “You have to be able to secure this device, you have to have the encryption up to and including, if you’re going to put an SD card slot on these things, you have to be able to secure that and encrypt that as well,” he said.

All three units clock in at market-proven prices but release at different times in Canada this year. The business-aimed 16GB ThinkPad will be $479, or $509 with a special digitized stylus, when it’s released on Aug. 2. The 32GB IdeaPad, the other Android-based slate, costs $499 and will be available in Canada at the end of August. The IdeaPad P1, the consumer slate in a Windows-environment, will drop in Q4 2011 but hasn’t been priced as of this announcement.