Sales of personal computers may be declining, but Lenovo — the top seller of PCs world wide — says it has a plan to deal with the decline.
The company is betting on a new technology trend it calls “detachables.”
Lenovo is making products it calls “2-in-1” and “4-in-1” solutions. Instead of having to buy both a tablet and a computer, for example, their products allow users to convert one product into many.
Gerry Smith, Lenovo’s Executive Vice President, says his company is putting a lot of investment and engineering into multi-purpose devices.
“We’re actually combining our PC and our tablet business together right now and looking at, ‘How do we take these different form factors,'” he told Business Insider at the World Economic Forum on Thursday. “If you look at the whole detachable PC market, it’s actually growing, and a lot of people don’t look at it that way. And so our goal is, ‘Let’s not just look at PCs, let’s look at the whole PC usage model’ and we’ll go out and have devices across all of that.”
The key to turning one Levovo device into many is in the device’s hinge. Lenovo has created some patented ones that can be bent all the way around, turned into stands, switched on and turned into projectors, or even hung on walls like televisions. Others Lenovo hinges — like on the Helix — are completely detachable , allowing users to remove bulky keyboards, speakers and battery packs and just use a screen as a tablets whenever they want:
Lenovo says the hinge on its new Yoga 900 Laptop is made from more than 800 parts and was inspired by the flexibility of links on a watch. This enables the computer to fold fully in half and turn into a tablet or be tented for watching video.
Another new Lenovo product, the , Yoga Tab 3 Pro, has a hinge with a hole in the center for a nail so you can hang the tablet like a TV on a wall. It also has a projecter on its hinge, and the ability to til the tablet so typing is easier. It looks goofy, but it might be useful.
“I think [detachables] are going to boom as a category because people want simplicity and they want something light,” Smith said.
He described a meeting a few years ago with Lenovo’s executive team, when the company decided to go all in on detachables. The executives were presented with numerous products and tasked with picking the best one to take to market. Instead, they decided to let customers choose.
“We brought out all these samples and said ‘let’s pick one’ and then we looked at each other and said, ‘Why pick one? Let’s go make the investment across all four, and let the customer decide,'” says Smith. “Customers really don’t know what they want sometimes…I think the market is going to grow, and it’s just a matter of offering a wide range of different innovations.”
David Roman, Lenovo’s Chief Marketing Officer, agrees. “We see very strong growth in the convertible space, in the 2-1 space, the ‘All in ones’ are actually growing space,” he told Business Insider Thursday. “We see the ability for companies, like Lenovo with the investments in new technology to come up with things like an OLED displays which didn’t exist before. Therefore it’s an entirely new market, so we’re sort of looking at managing that whole portfolio of products and there are some parts of it that are in decline, there are some parts that are high growth.”
A 4-in-1 product might be good for consumers but bad for Lenovo’s business. Instead of buying a tablet and a laptop, consumers will only buy one device. But Smith and Roman believe if they focus on building functional, reliable devices at affordable prices, it will all work out.
“We’re a high volume, lower margin, but higher volume model [than a company like Apple],” Roman says. “And you can look at a lot of other industries, like retail and Walmart, and that’s a model that works.”