In March of this year, Jeff Meredith, VP and GM of Lenovo’s Android and Chrome Computing Business Group, wrote that “Tablets are boring.” The entire category needed a shakeup, and that could only happen if we started building tablets that were more tailored for specific needs from our users—tablets, for instance, that would be just as good at creating content as it was at consuming it.
That’s why Lenovo created the Yoga Book—a distinctive tablet with a unique clamshell configuration. It combined a typical tablet-style screen with a fully flat keyboard, which doubled as a digitizer, and a dual-use stylus (the real pen accessory). Distinct from other tablets, the Yoga Book allows people to create content in a truly natural way: typing, writing or drawing on paper.
The engineering team’s first goal was to achieve the ideal thinness of 9.9mm, which led to the discovery and use of the fully flat, touch halo keyboard. With this design in place, the team realized it could push the boundaries even further by making use of the touch keyboard’s real estate to incorporate a digitizer (the same tool professional graphic artists and designers use to convert hand-drawn images onto the computer screen). While the digitizer is normally used with a stylus or digital pen, we wanted writing and sketching to be more natural, creating a pen accessory powered by Wacom feel™ IT technologies—the real pen. This pen uses real ink and can write on paper just as easily as on the multi-use keyboard.
In both form and function, the Yoga Book was inspired by the simplicity of the physical notebook. Think of how you normally work. You might be taking notes while reviewing a presentation, reading an article online, or watching a video. Your first instinct may be to reach for a pen and notepad, because it’s still the most basic and intuitive way to take notes, especially if there’s content on the screen. Using the Yoga Book’s real pen is as natural as putting pen to paper, but with the advantage of instant capture by the tablet. Or say you’re trying to get an idea across to someone and want to sketch it out. With the Yoga Book, you can take notes that show up instantly on the screen. When it makes more sense to type, simply switch it back to the halo keyboard. The keyboard only shows up when it’s needed and is designed to address the difficulties that many face with typing on a tablet without a physical keyboard.
The Yoga Book uses the same approach as that of professional graphic designers. Drawing on the multi-use keyboard is mirrored 1-1 on the screen, so that users don’t have to draw directly onto the screen like other tablets, giving them a better view of what they’re drawing or sketching. The real pen gives feedback from the tip to a user’s fingers, just like a physical pen, so that users can actually feel the difference between a pen, a paintbrush or crayon. The real pen also registers 2,048 levels of pressure and 100 degrees of angle detection, allowing users the control and precision of a pencil or paintbrush.
It’s a unique approach to tablet design and requires a mix of innovation and technical ingenuity to pull off.
And here’s how it works:
Lenovo engineers arranged a large array of different components into a tight stack in order to pack in the Gorilla glass, LCD panel, light guide film (LGF) backlighting, electro-magnetic resonance (EMR) film and various system components into a thin package measuring just 4mm. The keyboard and screen are made of 0.55mm glass with anti-glare coating, deliberately rough to facilitate typing. Underneath the glass is the touch panel keyboard, which recognizes your typing. Underneath that is the LGF backlighting membrane, responsible for lighting up the keys. The final level comprises the EMR film, which works together with the real pen accessory to recognize handwriting.
The mechanical design of the device is important to make this combination of five technologies work:
- Top layer: 0.55 mm Gorilla Glass w/ anti-glare coating (matte and grainy feel for better touch and pen input experience)
- Second layer: Touch panel keyboard, which recognizes your typing
- Third layer: LGF backlighting membrane, which lights up the keys
- Fourth layer: EMR film, which works together with the EMR technology in the real pen to recognize your handwriting, and is powered by Wacom feel™ IT technologies.
- Motherboard: SOC/memory/EMMC/RF and battery to power the system
And the real pen uses electromagnetic induction technology. Electromagnetic waves are sent from a sensor, receiving the signals returned by the pen. These signals are then processed through algorithm-based analysis, allowing the pen to digitize what’s being written on the paper or multi-use keyboard.
Switching from keyboard to notepad: When the halo keyboard is switched off, the surface becomes a sketchpad to write on. When the button is pressed on the real pen button to turn it on, the digitizing pad (EMR film) starts to work, and the keyboard is switched off along with the back light. When the pen is switched off, the handwriting mode is disabled and EMR film stops working, reactivating the halo keyboard.
Feels like paper: The multi-use keyboard replicates the touch and feel of paper when using the real pen. The Lenovo design team spent almost 18 months trying over 100 different samples to get the right anti-glare (AG) coating on the screen.
Writes like a pen: The real pen needed to work as a conductive pen and an actual pen with ink. It therefore needed to incorporate both stylus circuitry and the ink tips. Just like a real pen, the Lenovo team didn’t want it to run on batteries, so it’s powered by EMR, and like other ink pens it needed to allow for ink refills, which the original EMR pen did not support. Lenovo’s engineers therefore had to carefully choose the right ink refill tips, as this was important for pen signaling and optimizing the writing experience. Finally, Lenovo designed the pen so that its structure allowed for easy replacements and consistent performance. This led to many tests and lots of tweaking. Lenovo tried over 200 samples before arriving at the right pen.
Writing on the screen: Finally, Lenovo wanted to integrate Lenovo’s AnyPen technology with the EMR pen, allowing users to write directly on the top screen if they wanted. Lenovo’s engineers therefore had to select pieces of conduction polyoxymethylene (POM) that were the same size as the refills, while tuning the top screen and touch panel to the best signal-to-noise ratio for small signal extraction. There were also quite a few magnetic parts in the system that could disrupt the signal of the style and digitizer sensor. As a result, Lenovo’s engineers had to conduct a lot of tests and tunneling work to make sure they worked to the greatest accuracy and reliability.