Lenovo recently announced the ThinkPad Helix, a setup the company is calling a “premium convertible” and aiming at business users by way of a $1,500 starting price.
Like a handful of Windows 8 computers making their way to market, the Helix sports a touchscreen that pops away from the keyboard to be used like a tablet. However unlike most convertibles, the Helix’s screen can be popped back into the keyboard facing either forwards or backwards. It can then be contorted into a handful of positions similar to how Lenovo’s line of Yoga machines operate (except the Yogas don’t sport detachable screens).
Here’s a video of the Helix:
You’ll notice the Lenovo rep used the term “rip and flip” to denote how the screen can be removed and reconfigured. I’m not sure whether the term will stick, but that’s basically the near future of portable computing: your screen detaches from the keyboard to be used as a tablet for fun or mobility, and then docks back into the keyboard when you need to do some work. Lenovo has added the extra step of being able to pop the screen in facing backwards as a sort of presentation mode.
Like all evolutionary steps in the world of technology, this first round isn’t going to be cheap and it might be a bit clunky. The Helix’s $1,500 starting price puts it out of reach for most casual consumers, and the package’s combined weight of 3.75 pounds is a bit on the heavy side for an 11.6-inch machine. But give it a year or two, and setups like this will become inexpensive and, therefore, commonplace.
What will ultimately be really interesting to see is how a company like Apple would handle a setup like this. Imagine a Helix-like MacBook with a screen that popped off. Would the popped-off screen run a full version of the Mac operating system or would it basically become an iPad running iOS?
Perhaps that wouldn’t even be an issue. With the latest version of the Mac operating system adopting more and more iOS features, Apple may eventually be gunning for an operating system that spans both tablets and computers — similar to what Microsoft‘s trying to do with Windows 8.
Whatever the case, two things are becoming clear. First, the days of the tried and true laptop form factor are growing shorter. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the line between laptops and tablets is beginning to blur much more noticeably. In the not too distant future, it won’t be a question of whether you’re carrying both a tablet and a laptop with you – it’ll be a question of how you’ve ripped and/or flipped your setup at any particular moment.
That’s the near future. After that, we get to witness the fusion of tablets, laptops and smartphones – the day when your phone is powerful enough to be the only computing device you own, and you simply go around docking it into various keyboards, car dashboards, tablet screens and TV sets.