Lenovo thinks differentOctober 31, 2013: 11:00 AM ET
Chinese computer maker introduces Yoga, its Android tablets that break the mold.
FORTUNE -- Who says tablets have to be flat? There was no decree from Steve Jobs, no edict from Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG), or Samsung. Oh, and Ashton Kutcher thinks it's unnecessary (more on that later). Yet the tablet market today is a sea of often indistinguishable flat slates in which hardware innovation is measured in thinness, screen resolution, battery life and speed.
On Tuesday, Lenovo, the Chinese computer giant, unveiled a new line of Android tablets. The thin devices immediately stand out because of a cylindrical bulge that's built along one of their edges. The cylinder provides the space for a hefty battery that, according to Lenovo, can power the devices for 16 to 18 hours, which if true, blows away the competition.
The design may sound clunky, but it looks slick. And Lenovo says the cylinder changes the weight distribution of the device, making it easier to hold. A built-in kickstand allows users to place the tablet in a variety of positions, for typing, playing, reading, or watching. Not surprisingly, Lenovo named the new tablets Yoga, after its convertible ultra book, one of the most popular Windows 8 devices to hit the market.
It's far too early to tell whether the Yoga tablets, which are available now starting at $249 and $299, will be a hit. Early reviews, like this one from The Verge, which astutely compares the shape of the Yoga to Apple's wireless keyboard (and I may add, Apple's touchpad), suggest it is indeed quite comfortable to hold.
Lenovo is a relative newbie in the mobile computing world. But, as I described in a Fortune profile earlier this year, Lenovo has blown past its rivals in the PC market through a combination of scale, smart strategy (truly global, diversified), and product innovation. Now it's bringing this approach to the phone market, where in just two years it climbed to No. 2 smartphone seller in China and No. 4 globally.
Bringing the Yoga-inspired versatility and unconventional look to tablets, where the company has yet to make a splash, makes good sense. Or so says Lenovo's latest "product engineer," the Hollywood celebrity and co-star of Two and a Half Men, Kutcher. That's right, Kutcher, already a prolific tech investor, now has a side gig as advisor to Lenovo's engineers and designers. He told USA Today that he hopes to help make Lenovo's products "as consumer friendly as possible."
Hiring a celebrity pitchman is a tried and true strategy for Lenovo, whose chief marketing officer, Apple and HP veteran David Roman, lined up soccer stars to sell its products in Japan and basketball greats to promote them in China. Roman has said that the partnership will go beyond the typical marketing alliance, as Kutcher "will help us break new ground by challenging assumptions, bringing new perspective and contributing his technical expertise to Yoga Tablet and other devices."
With Kutcher and Lenovo teaming up for an event in Los Angeles, the Yoga tablets had the well-orchestrated launch befitting a product that deserves attention. Except for one thing. The event was being held just as the reviews for Apple's new iPad Air and iPad Mini were hitting newspaper websites and blogs the world over. If you hadn't heard about the Yoga yet, now you know why.