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Lenovo will ditch hard keyboards in planned Chromebook and 2-in-1s

Agam Shah | Sept. 1, 2016
Lenovo will release a Chromebook and a line of 2-in-1 Yoga Books with a touch panel instead of a hard keyboard

Yoga Book virtual keyboard

Lenovo's new Yoga Book will be a sleek folding laptop with stunning secrets inside.

Opening up the device reveals a big surprise: It has no hard keyboard. The keyboard area instead has a versatile touch panel that turns into a smartphone-like virtual keyboard, a draw pad, or a digital notepad.

The new touch input panel, which has a back-lit virtual keyboard, is a big deal for Lenovo. It will be featured in a new line of 2-and-1s and laptops and is Lenovo's ambitious attempt to break a decades-old habit of using one-dimensional hard keyboards.

The Yoga Book will be the company's first product with a touch panel replacing a hard keyboard to type, draw, or take notes. Its price will start at US$499, and come with Windows or Android. Lenovo hasn't provided a shipment date for the device.

More devices under the Yoga Book brand will follow, and the touch input panel will also go into an upcoming Chromebook, Jeff Meredith, Lenovo’s vice president and general manager of the Android and Chrome Computing Business Group, said in an interview.

"You'll probably see products in both the Android and Windows systems. Most likely you'll see a product in the Chrome ecosystem," Meredith said.

The Yoga Book has a full HD 10.1-inch touchscreen and can be used as a laptop or tablet. The input panel -- which replaces the keyboard -- won't hurt Yoga Book's estimated 13 hours of battery life, Meredith said.

Regular paper can be placed on the input panel to take notes, which will be entered into the device. Lenovo will include an ink pen that also serves as a stylus.

It wasn't an easy decision to remove the hard keyboard, which has has been battle-tested in computers for decades. The new input panel took two years to develop and test and will appeal to a young, mobile-first crowd used to virtual keyboards on mobile devices, Meredith said.

The virtual keyboard panel could also be popular in Chromebooks, which now support Android apps and are popular in educational environments.

Students love to draw and write with a pen, and the input panel will provide that capability, Meredith said. That versatility is not available with hard keyboards, which can restrict a child's creativity.

The virtual keyboard panel in Yoga Book has to be turned off to draw or take notes with a stylus. Lenovo, in its two-year study, found that stylus usage on a regular display wanes after a few months, but a separate touch panel to take notes would be appealing to users.

Lenovo has included some mobile typing features in Yoga Book. It will include autocorrect and predictive text, which speeds up typing with suggestions. Algorithms will help the device pick up user typing trends over time.

 

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