Out On The Edge

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I’ve been to product announcements in a lot of strange and bizarre venues — a biker bar, a blimp, and even inside the Brooklyn Bridge. But the announcement of Lenovo’s two new ThinkPad Edge models of laptops takes the cake, literally. It took place inside a mobile cupcake bakery. Sweet! The Cupcake Stop is a Manhattan phenomenon that parks in various parts of the city and notifies the faithful via Twitter where it will be and what are the featured confections of the day.  Appropriately, it was parked in the heart of Silicon Valley.

The Edge series is targeted at small and medium-sized businesses. SMB is the new TLA – Three Letter Acronym. This is a refreshing return to basics after a few seasons of SOHO,VoIP, WiMax, WLan, and no way to shorten “Social Media” that doesn’t induce Fanboy giggles.

, J.R. (Jay) McBain

Lenovo’s Director of Small and Medium Business, J.R. (Jay) McBain, says the new laptops “were designed from the ground up.” He goes on to say, “We didn’t strip out things from our enterprise machines.” Starting at under $600 for the 14-inch and topping out at under $900 for the 15-inch, the price is affordable for companies with few employees and even fewer resources. Implicit in Lenovo’s strategy is recognition that its prime customer base, large firms have scaled back because of a down economy and fewer employees. Click for the ThinkPad Edge specifications.

Think Pads are still considered a quality brand but the new breeds of laptop purchasers are not as willing or able to pay premium prices.  A lot of those people are out of work because of layoffs and cutbacks. They have started their own businesses or are freelancing and consulting. In either case, they still need computers but lack the money or an IT department for support. This is the niche that the new Edge line is hoping to fill. The company has provided a lot of support services combined with the built in services in Windows Vista 7.

While it seems clear that the economic climate has pushed Lenovo’s thinking toward new kinds of customers, the company, despite taking over IBM’s global market, still focuses mainly on the developed world. The Edge line, full-featured, powerful, and relatively inexpensive, is just what the rest of the world needs as well. But the distribution channels vary widely. For example, I can find dozens of dealers in Russia but only two in Uganda. And this is data gleaned from searching only Lenovo’s website.

Jon Gosier

This is not to pick on Lenovo. It actually does pretty well. But Kampala is becoming a software development center in Africa. Jon Gosier of Appfrica Labs, a leading programming incubator, has repeatedly complained about how difficult it is to get top of the line hardware without paying outrageous markups.

I know that developing new markets is tough and expensive at first. But taking a longer view could prove profitable. Any objective review of the data suggests that Africa is a growth market for technology. At some point, sooner rather than later, a lot of electronics will be sold. And consumers everywhere go for quality goods at affordable prices. And by the way, there are nearly a billion people in Africa.

Disclaimer: Jon Gosier worked on a project on which I was a consultant. I came to the project long after he had been hired by the principals. He and I have never actually met, but I am a fan of his blog http://appfrica.net/blog/

Steve Miller
Stephen C. Miller is an editor, reporter and technology consultant. He writes the blog, The Future Was Yesterday: Technology in the Real World. He has spent nearly 30 years training African journalists throughout the continent in investigative techniques.

Formerly he was Assistant to the Technology Editor at The New York Times. He retired in 2008 after a 20 year career there. While at The Times he supervised the training of reporters and editors in the use of new technologies. Miller started his career in broadcasting, spending 12 years at CBS News in a variety of positions, including Night News Manager.

He is on the Board of Directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors and is past President of the New York Association of Black Journalists. He speaks frequently on how technology is affecting journalism.
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