Lenovo unveils touch keyboard tablet, ‘pen’ that can write on paper and screens

Chinese electronics giant's new keyboard learns where your fingers land on each key to reduce the amount of typing errors

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 2:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 2:58pm

Chinese electronics giant Lenovo has launched an Android tablet with a touch keyboard and a stylus that allows users to write on paper and digitally at the same time, in a move that will pit it against the likes of Huawei and Apple in a battle to find growth in a declining market.

The Yoga Book, which was unveiled at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin, features a 10.1 inch screen and is 9.6 millimeters thin, as Lenovo targets the product as a portable productivity and entertainment device.

Key features include:
•64 gigabyte internal storage with space for a 128 gigabyte Micro SD card
•4 GB of RAM
•Fast charging technology
•Availability in Android and Windows 10
•Android version starts at US$499
•Windows version starts at US$599
•It also comes with an LTE version that allows users to put in a SIM card to connect to the mobile internet. This version costs adds US$100 more to each version.

Lenovo is trying to set itself apart from its rivals with two features - the touch keyboard and the ability for users to write digital notes while using pen and paper.

Firstly, the touch keyboard has no physical keys and is attached to the tablet's main screen via a hinge. The keyboard learns where your fingers land on each key, which will help reduce the amount of typing errors.

Secondly, the Yoga Book comes with a stylus that's shaped like a pen. It has interchangeable nibs. One is a stylus tip to use on the tablet's screen and the other is an ink nib which enables users to write notes on physical paper with ink, which can be converted by the Yoga Book into digital notes on the screen. Lenovo is selling a magnetic clipboard that attaches to the Yoga Book's touch keyboard. Once it's attached, the tablet will recognise it and users can write notes on the paper which will simultaneously become digital. The tablet uses the pressure and movement technology in the pen to translate and recognise a person's writing.

Lenovo said the product has been three years in the making and is aiming it at millenials who've grown up with touch screen devices.

"The product came out of a mobile mindset, it's important to differentiate because a lot of 2-in-1s come out of a notebook mindset. We came from a smartphone and tablet mindset with a touch keyboard and Android. A lot of things we have done has come from mobile logic rather than PC logic," Jeff Meredith, the head of Lenovo's tablet business, told CNBC in an interview ahead of the product launch.

Meredith said the company found that many people had the intention of using a stylus when they bought a tablet but interest waned as they missed the feel of pen on paper. That's why Lenovo introduced the writing feature on the Yoga Book, the executive said.

Lenovo's launch comes as the tablet market continues to decline with a 12.3 per cent fall in shipments year-over-year in the second quarter of 2016, according to IDC. However, industry experts said the 2-in-1 category is growing. In the second quarter, Lenovo's tablet shipments were up 3.1 per cent. The company has benefited from releasing a number of 2-in-1 devices and innovative designs such as the Yoga Tab 3 which had a built-in projector.

But the world's number three tablet vendor faces stiff competition from a number of players such as Apple and Huawei. And analysts said with the new touch keyboard, Lenovo will have to convince users to try it out and offer a good enough experience for them to stick with it.

"What Lenovo has to demonstrate is having this flat surface, delivers a good enough typing experience so that consumers and business users don't feel like this is a weak experience. It's a challenging thing to execute on," says Ian Fogg, head of mobile at IHS.

Lenovo is the world's largest PC maker but this market, like tablets, is also declining. A product like the Yoga Book could have the ability to cannibalise sales of Lenovo's other products, but Meredith said that the tablet will likely appeal to a certain customer.

"If you are app-driven, cost centric, value simple and light design, it will have a lot of appeal. I don't see it as cannibalisation, more as evolution of consumer behaviour. I think the tablet market is down, and we think the Yoga Book most certainly has an opportunity to inject some life into the tablet market," Meredith told CNBC.

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