Folding phones are already being pitched as the next big wave of tech, and whether or not that turns out to be true, the industry has no plans to stop there. Lenovo has just announced what it says is the world’s first “foldable PC:” a prototype ThinkPad that iterates the foldable tech we’ve already seen from phones on a much bigger scale.
It’s not just a cool tech demo, either: Lenovo has been developing this for over three years and has plans to launch a finished device in 2020 as part of its premium ThinkPad X1 brand. The goal here is a premium product that will be a laptop-class device, not an accessory or secondary computer like a tablet might be.
The company announced the ThinkPad X1 foldable prototype laptop at its annual sales event, aiming to show one direction it sees the future of computing heading. In a brief meeting to demonstrate a working prototype of the device earlier this month, Lenovo told Quartz that it sees the future X1 device replacing the average person’s daily computer, providing them a large-screen Windows device in a small package. It doesn’t have a price for the unreleased device yet, but its X1 line of products is generally reserved for its high-end computers.
Lenovo is still working out the kinks of the product—it’s still figuring out how a physical keyboard will fit into the computer, for example—and plans to take its time releasing it. Lenovo said it’s been working on the device for the last three years, and doesn’t plan to release it until 2020, presumably hoping to avoid a fate like the Fold.
The prototype, however, didn’t feel like a massively unfinished device. The hinge allowed the screen told be sturdily tilted up to a variety of viewing angles when it was folded into the shape of a traditional laptop, and the device seemed to have no problem running Windows. The large 13.3-inch high-resolution display looked bright and sharp however it was curved.
While it’s still very much a work in progress, the new device hints at where device makers are looking toward the future—whether that’s a future anyone actually wants, however, is unclear.
Huawei, the second biggest maker of smartphones in the world behind Samsung, is also readying a foldable phone—one that’s supposed to bend backward rather than fold together, so that both sides of the Huawei folded phone are made up of a display. Motorola, which is part of Lenovo, plans to ship a foldable Razr phone “no later than everyone else in the market,” a company executive told Engadget. And last week during the Google I/O keynote presentation, Android senior director Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson said that multiple hardware makers will launch foldable devices this year.
So foldable displays are no doubt a thing in consumer technology right now. Lenovo has the distinction of showing off something that’s designed to be a laptop, folded into something like a tablet or a “book.” But, as WIRED’s Lousie Matsakis has reported, Samsung’s problems could plague foldables in general. In that case, Lenovo may also be wise to set its foldable sights on 2020, rather than rushing something out this year.