Before we think about the IBM ThinkPad 701, I wanted to flag that I’ve been a Mac user for almost all of my computer-owning adult life. But there have only been a couple of devices that have ever given me PC-envy.
The first one was the IBM ThinkPad 701, my friend at college Jouni whom I lived in halls with at the time had a 701 and the product design blew me away.
The IBM ThinkPad 701 had a carefully designed set of accessories providing a full system of accessories that the road warrior would need including a desk dock, cable adaptors, spare batteries and a detachable disk drive. That was clever and as good as what Apple was doing with with its PowerBook Duo sub notebook. It’s hard to explain how connectivity pre USB was much trickier.
Surprisingly for a computer manufacturer, IBM turned out laptops that had interesting industrial design. They used magnesium alloy shells, titanium and carbon fibre in different model designs over the years and got less credit than they deserved for it.
Richard Sapper, a German product designer based in Italy came up with the design language for the ThinkPad which he modeled on the traditional black lacquer bento box. An ex-automotive engineer with Mercedes Benz Sapper was better known for his work with Alessi and the Tizio lamp for Artemide.
Sapper has kept a connection with the ThinkPad brand and is involved as a design consultant for the current ThinkPad range made by Lenovo.
What made the IBM ThinkPad 701 special was the butterfly keyboard designed by John Karidis solved the problem of making a portable computer with a full-size keyboard. It had a better action than modern laptops in terms typist feedback and was a compact full size keyboard. This was unheard of at the time. It was delicate the way it folded into place as one opened the lid on the laptop and robust enough to cope with travails of mobile working. More design related posts here.