From ‘Mission Impossible’ to MoMA: ThinkPad 701’s spectacular fold-out keyboard still wows 25 years later
At IBM they were trilling. They wanted to bring an ultra-compact laptop to the market, but they couldn’t fit a proper keyboard. The IBM ThinkPad 701C It had everything to stand out in the market, but its 10.4-inch screen posed a huge challenge to its engineers.
It was then that he appeared on the scene John Karidis, a mechanical engineer and inventor who had a great idea. If you don’t fit a normal keyboard, Why not put one that unfolds when you open it? No sooner said than done. That jewel of engineering had some success in the market, but it also ended up appearing in films such as’GoldenEye‘ The ‘Mission Impossible‘and was part of an exhibition at the prestigious Modern Museum of Art (MoMA).
A hypnotic deployment mechanism
In 1995 some really amazing teams were starting to appear trying to get closer to that challenge of making an “ultraportable” really easy to carry from one site to another.
The ThinkPad 701C was undoubtedly one of those computers, but its 4: 3 screen format and its 10.4-inch diagonal made it difficult to get a normal keyboard in which it was comfortable to write.
To solve this, Karidis came up with a fantastic idea: create the so-called TrackWrite (popularly known as IBM’s ‘Butterfly Keyboard’), a system that allowed unfold a keyboard divided into two sections when opening the notebook, and fold it back when closed. In this LGR video (the GIF included is a fragment of it) it is possible to see it in depth.
Karidis managed to divide the keyboard into two pieces that were perfectly coupled through an ingenious mechanism that almost “flowed” at the same time we were opening the lid of the laptop.
That design succeeded in making the ThinkPad 701C the best-selling notebook of 1995, but after those initial sales, manufacturers managed to reduce formats with larger screens and with other less complicated methods.
Still, the ThinkPad 701C continued turned into an almost cult object: appeared in films such as ‘GoldenEye’ (1995) or ‘Mission Impossible’ (1996), but also he turned in one of the objects in an exhibition at the MoMa in New York.