Happy 20th Birthday, ThinkPad! We were very privileged to catch up with Mr Arimasa Naitoh, who is otherwise known as the Father of the ThinkPad. He kindly spent some time answering some of the questions posed by our forum’s moderators, gurus and Microsoft MVPs.
The story of ThinkPad is very much a story of broad innovation and continuous innovation over the past two decades, but what ThinkPad concepts or technologies, if any, do you feel have reached their apex and cannot be refined any further? Or, in other words, what element is perfect?
Naitoh- San: The ThinkPad successfully allows customers the chance for location-free productivity in their businesses. What’s better than this? The ThinkPad creates more free time in our customers’ lives as better efficiency is attained through the use of the ThinkPad productivity tools. The ThinkPad’s process won’t reach the limit, as we keep having newer technologies and make more innovation.
What was your favorite obsolete technology that is no longer used in the ThinkPad line?
Naitoh-San: The butterfly keyboard was a good example – it was the expandable keyboard with the screen lid opened. The idea was to provide a full sized keyboard in 10.1” screen size form factor. In recent years the PCs and systems we produce have bigger screens and so, we don’t have the opportunity to use it now.
On the future
How do you think the world will change over the next 20 years? And how will the ThinkPad change, design-wise?
Naitoh-San: Years ago, we did not have cell phones the size they are now; we did not have high speed network to home; we did not have the internet, and we did not have online shopping. We did not have digital TV and digital video content. Our lives have been so much changed since the past 20 years, so in the next 20 years, life as we know will be lived differently. In the PC environment, we have been with a physical display and physical keyboard for the past 20 years, which will of course continue to exist. I expect new user interfaces and technologies will give us alternatives ways for humans to communicate and interact with IT.
How will the upcoming technological developments affect the next generation, in your opinion? How will kids be learning and doing things differently?
Naitoh-San: When children are born, they already live with pad and touch which are their start point. Children will generate what we could even imagine now. Children will learn things faster and in the unique way beyond something you can tell them. We just need to help them to dream big.
We'll like to have your thoughts on how technology will affect our lives in other areas, such as the way we work? Is mobile the future? The screens found in smart phones and tablets keep getting bigger, denser, brighter and clearer. Are there plans to update/ change the ThinkPad displays/ screens?
Naitoh-San: 20 years ago, cell phones, the internet, and other IT devices/infrastructure you use daily today did not exist. You can tell how your life and work style have been changed by those in the past 20 years, and I am sure that we will see the same degree of changes in the next 20 years. With regard to screen technology, today you select resolution of PC screen when you purchase such as HD, HD+ or FHD. It is very natural to imagine that you will no longer care it in future as screen will be much denser so you can’t tell how dense.
Do you have any advice for the next generation to inspire them in the way you've inspired the evolution of the ThinkPad?
Naitoh-San: To be honest I do not know if I can tell them something useful. I would maybe say ‘Watch, listen, take care of everything around you as that suggests to you what you should do.’.
On ThinkPad specs
Much thought obviously goes into each design revamp of the ThinkPad, where in its 20 years of history, there have been different variations of, for instance, the keyboard. Have you tried the various changes, from the butterfly, to the current island design? What are your thoughts?
Naitoh-San: I have used almost all of past ThinkPad keyboard. Currently I am using X1 Carbon Island keyboard, and I like it.
The ThinkPad models in the 1990’s had documentation stating that they are to be made in black cases, in accordance with Richard Sapper’s guidelines set in his collaboration with the Boca Raton Team. Why were there variations from this, where, for instance, the 700/ C, 720C and 300 are in grey?
Naitoh-San: In the 1990’s, we had the retail models of ThinkPad painted in grey to be distinguished from the original enterprise models.
Join in the celebrations with us! Check out this interview with ThinkPad design lead Mr David Hill here and go on this quick trip down memory lane in this living museum exhibition of ThinkPads held recently in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.