Users drive design of new IBM line of products

IBM Canada Ltd.’s new ThinkVantage Technologies series – released on Tuesday – was built around the needs and advice of customers.

According to the Markham, Ont.-based company, customer feedback was paramount in designing the new ThinkCentre S50, a global enterprise PC featuring an extremely small form factor. The firm introduced the offering at an event held in Toronto, where speakers addressed how technology is changing workplace culture.

The S50 has dimensions of 12.2 inches wide by 14.1 inches deep by 3.3 inches high and is 62 per cent smaller than a standard desktop, the company said.

Harry Wttewaall, national ThinkPad specialist at IBM Canada, said the compact S50 is advantageous to customers who don’t want their computer to be the focal point of their workspaces.

“The ThinkCentre S50 is significantly smaller than a desktop, so what we have in this package, is we have full desktop capabilities. We have CD-ROM, hard drives, floppy, and yet we also have some slots for expansion,” Wttewaall said. “You can put it on its side if you want, you can mount it on your desk, put it on the floor, so the experience is not necessarily the technology, but more the interfacing devices.”

Wttewaall said that it would be fitting to compare the evolution of the PC to that of the automobile. The automobile has grown from a machine that could transport cargo from point A to point B, to something that can essentially think for itself.

“It’s now even evolved to the point where you get in and push a button and you adjust your seats, your mirrors, your radio station as well as, if it happens to be raining out…turning the wipers on for you. It’s aware of its surroundings,” Wttewaall said.

He also cited the cell phone as a prime example of how technology has evolved from simplistic to, in some cases, extremely complex.

“Remember the first cell phone you got? It was big, but it had a very specific purpose, to connect you to someone you needed to connect to. But as the technology has matured we now see that the function of the cell phone has changed quite a bit. We’re looking for a lot more out of the cell phone. We’re looking to not just dial out, but to store one hundred different names also Web browsing and Web browsing games and down loading ring tones,” Wttewaall said.

He added that a key example of customers driving the design and evolution of IBM technology was with the redesign of the ThinkPad T40 from its predecessor, the T30.

“The T40 has a slight slope from back to front. The reason that this happened was when you look at the T30 [you’ll notice that] we designed it very flat. The feedback from the users was that they were touching buttons in the front accidentally. So what we did, was we thinned out the front, put a bit of a slant, so there’s not as much accidental touching of the [keys] at the bottom [of the machine],” Wttewaall said.

Demonstrating the future of the PC, the University of Ontario – Ontario’s first laptop-based academic institution, which is scheduled to open in September and is affiliated with Durham College – has formed a partnership with IBM to offer all of its students a laptop complete with software, specific to every student’s particular course.

Bill Muirhead, an associate provost in learning technologies at the University of Ontario/Durham College (UOIT), said that his organization formed the partnership to further the school’s goal of transforming education through Web-centric learning.

According to Muirhead, the approach was born from the desire to create an environment in which students will learn in the way that they will be expected to work upon graduation.

He added that the mission of the UOIT is to ensure that technology can enhance, and not just equal, traditional face-to-face learning.

“At the end of the day, if we can only demonstrate that things were as good as they were without technology, I will make the case that we have failed. That’s setting a fairly high bar. If we cannot show that we can advance learning, that we have transformed the teaching/learning experience, then I think we have a problem,” Muirhead said.

He added that one of the key outcomes of the evolution of technology is that “your physical space and the activities that are taking place are no longer bounded by place, or perhaps by time. That’s the change, and that’s the change that we are going to empower.”

According to San Jose-based Dataquest Inc., a unit of Gartner Inc., the personal computer industry surpassed a historic milestone last year when the one billionth PC was shipped.

IBM Canada can be found online at The UOIT can be found online at