Hybrid-work hardware debuts at CES. Wait…, what?

Companies like Lenovo and HP are going all-in on special hardware for remote and hybrid workers. But special how?

Hybrid hardware makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective.

The most significant trend in how people work is remote and hybrid work. Some are working from home full-time, others part-time. And still, others work often neither at home nor in the office but from wherever they happen to be at the moment. 

Marketing-speak is nice, but have hardware needs actually changed to reflect what remote and hybrid workers need in the real world?

Two of the leading makers of business hardware emerged at last week’s CES 2023 with some straightforward answers. Let’s have a look.

Lenovo

The leading company at the big tech event touting made-for-hybrid gear was clearly Lenovo, which introduced a wide range of products specifically targeted at remote and hybrid workers.

One product (shipping in March) is called the Go Desk Station with Webcam.

It combines a wireless charger, a 4K webcam, an expansion hub, a lamp (of all things), and a rotatable arm.

(While the camera and long lamp are both attached to the same stand, you can adjust the light to optimize your appearance while the camera sits at roughly eye level.)

The idea is that full-time home-office or office workers can have a big screen with a high camera and a desktop light to illuminate themselves during video calls.

But hybrid workers and digital nomads do a lot of video calls from their laptops, where cameras tend to be lower quality and, mounted in the center-top bezel of the laptop screen, too low. People have random lighting, too.

As a result, hybrid workers using portable devices tend to look worse in video meetings than full-time office workers do.

This hardware is designed to solve two problems.

The first is the low-quality video (better camera, mounted higher with lighting). The second is portability. By combining the lampstand, camera stand, USB hub, and wireless charger into a single unit, nomadic workers can save backpack space. (In fact, you probably wouldn’t lug around all these devices without such integration.)

Another Lenovo nod toward consolidation for the sake of portability is a new Windows laptop called the ThinkBook Plus Twist (expected in June); it has a regular screen on one side and an e-ink screen on the other. Close the lid, and it’s an eBook reader. Flip the screen around, close the lid, and it’s a color tablet. Then open the lid and use the e-ink screen as a distraction-free writing device.

Lenovo also introduced the first of its laptops (the ThinkBook 16p Gen 4) to support the company’s Magic Bay accessory system. It’s a magnetic Pogo pin connector for easily and quickly attaching a 4K webcam, a light bar to illuminate your face when using the integrated 1080p webcam, or a 4G LTE module. (The 4K webcam does a neat trick; you can turn it around to face away from the user so that you can stream video from either direction.) These accessories add functionality without reducing screen real estate.

Lenovo’s new Yoga Book 9i laptop has two screens, giving you three work modes. You can use the bottom screen as an on-screen keyboard or controller while using the top screen as a…screen. You can add a physical keyboard to the bottom for a horizontal two-screen layout. Or (again, with the physical keyboard), you can place the clamshell on its side for a vertical two-screen layout.

Lenovo is not only hyping hybrid-work hardware but has also clearly done a lot of deep thinking about it.

HP

HP unveiled new earbuds designed for remote and hybrid workers. The Poly Voyager Free 60 earbuds (shipping in March) sport three microphones on each earpiece for advanced noise cancellation and better pickup of a user’s voice.

That means you should be able to do Zoom calls from a noisy coffee shop, and the people on the call will hear only you. Unusually, they come with a charging case with a touchscreen on it for controlling connections and audio and for getting data about the earbuds, such as current battery life.

The centrally manageable earbuds will also be available in a Microsoft Teams-certified version.

What hybrid-work hardware means to Lenovo and HP

These are a few examples of what hardware upgrades Lenovo and HP think hybrid workers need. In addition, these two companies are touting other products for hybrid work, and other companies are doing the same with their own products at CES.

To Lenovo and HP, hybrid-work hardware is all about getting portable and mobile devices closer in user experience and quality to big desktop setups.

That makes a lot of sense, actually: more screen real estate, improved video quality, and do-it-all integrations that reduce the number of devices a hybrid worker needs to lug around.

Let’s hope this rising tide of functionality and integration will lift all boats, improving user devices no matter where those workers do their jobs.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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