We wanted to bring you the story behind VAIO P development so that you as a reader and maybe already an owner of this VAIO could get a glimpse of what it took designers and a crew of other talented people bring this LifeStyle Notebook to life.
Things that surround us everyday like the movies, music, photos, and communications have all become more digitalized and have evolved to provide more convenience and more fun. It has been over ten years since the birth of VAIO which has particularly been a star model. We asked the developers about their perspectives.
You two are at the headwaters of the creative process. Can you two describe your views on VAIO?
Ito: VAIO has always been developed to become a computer that reflects the times. This applies not just to VAIO but probably to all Sony products. In retrospect, we always tried to grasp the essence of the particular era and what was ahead of us, and presented a new concept for PCs. This is true for mobile PCs launched after 1997 like VAIO 505, VAIO C, VAIO GT and VAIO UX. We make VAIO thinking it is a PC that can provide surprises, inspirations, and joy of ownership.
What kind of times are we in now?
Ito: Now the world of computing has spread outside the PCs. Cell phones and smartphones can be connected to the networks. E-mails and net surfing can be enjoyed anywhere. This is a completely different situation from 10 years ago. Everybody carries cell phones today. So we had to start from the scratch and think of a mobile PC that people want to carry around along with cell phones.
Takuma: Let’s look at it from another angle. PCs are indispensable in our times. So if the PCs are so exciting, our lives should become more fun. I believe VAIO has been just that and always will be. This is why I am always looking for things that can be offered with VAIO. Consequently, I hope when people look at VAIO, touch it and use it, they feel the excitement.
What are you doing specifically when you say you are looking for things you can offer with VAIO?
Takuma: “I love computers. I love using them or just trying out many prototypes. Thinking of the beautiful exterior is one thing, but I get totally carried away when I think about how to use them.
I get so happy when projects like The VAIO P-Series start. When I am out in the city in a café or when I am on a trip relaxing, I keep thinking “if its shape were like this, it can do this and that” and just expand my ideas. So, there’s no distinction between work and play (LOL). For me, work hours is not just some time I spend in the office – I keep thinking about these things even in my personal time.”
Like Mr. Ito said, it seems to me that VAIO always had been the forerunner in the field of mobile PCs with models such as VAIO C and VAIO UX. Given that kind of background, what is the essence of the VAIO P-Series?
Suzuki: I have strong feelings toward “small gadgets”. I once worked on “VAIO UX”, so being in charge of “small VAIO” has a special meaning for me. This is not just for VAIO, but I believe Sony itself has in its genes, or has a soul, to create small gadgets. People who are desperate to make things smaller somehow gather here (LOL). It seems to be their nature to see this “impossible to downsize” challenge, and somehow try to overcome it, including the design.
Hanazuka: I think it is true that since VAIO note 505, we keep trying to make the models smaller, thinner and lighter. People at Sony all want to make the products smaller.
Kawakami: The hurdles were set high for The VAIO P-Series in the first place. Initially, I didn’t think that all the parts could fit into this size, but as I listened to the designers and saw the mockups, the feeling that I wanted to make this a reality welled up in me. Then I began to feel I cannot mess up the project because of me. The challenge for me was containing all the circuitry inside, while not compromising the design. In addition, I could not give away the usability and specs either.
It is amazing to see your spirit, how you come up with an optimal solution rather than making an either-or choice when you hit a wall. What keeps you on trying to make it smaller instead of just giving up?
Hanazuka: Things are not always easy, but somehow we make it through by thinking about the people who would be using it. It makes us happy when the product becomes available to many more users.
Suzuki: VAIO was the smallest PC and it always seemed to be the only one making far-fetched attempts. But I guess that was also its edge. Now the mobile PC market is so lively, it actually feels more comfortable knowing that we can play game in the technology of making things smaller which we excel at. Up until recently, maybe the only option was VAIO UX but now the market environment is completely different. The VAIO P-Series is one answer from us saying “here is what it would look like when we make things small”. I know there are mobiles PCs with similar specs from our competitors, but we feel lucky in a way being able to throw in a product that is differentiated in its mobile features (thinness, lightness, battery life). When we look at the mobile equipment in general, cell phones and smartphones’ connectivity to the Internet has definitely improved and the PCs are no longer the only choice. We want to deliver the full-spec experience to those young people who have used the Internet only through cell phones. The VAIO P-Series is the culmination of such a desire.
The entry barrier to the PC market is low because of the frequent technological innovations and the advancement of the horizontal division of labor. What are some of the things you keep in mind given VAIO has established a special positioning in this kind of competitive environment?
Ito: That is a matter of how much passion we can put into the product. I believe our work is like giving birth to a new life. We went through so much debate to decide on even the smallest details, and I believe that has given a character to VAIO like no other.
Suzuki: We work believing that when we developers embed our passion into a product, even the customers we don’t know in person can feel the enthusiasm oozing out of the product. We house our passion into the stylish mockup that designers create. We have to put our souls into it, otherwise the product somehow becomes flat.
Kawakami: Physical appearance is important for sure. Otherwise we don’t get turned on, or motivated.
Ono: I also believe the creators’ passion will definitely be felt. If you are conservative, that is what they will feel, and if you put your heart into it to create something great no matter how hard, your passion seems to get across. This may sound like an old-fashioned mentality, but I think that kind of feeling plays a big part in turning the impossible into possible and moving people beyond reason. VAIO was created with that kind of spirit. Personally, I wanted to make something that I can show off, something that makes you grin knowing that it’s in your bag. Otherwise, I didn’t think we’d ever get to the level where people would be proud to buy something with VAIO logo on it and be happy.
Due to the advanced wireless network, cheaper connection fee, and the corresponding evolution of the products, the Internet environment is better than it has ever been giving people online access anytime, anywhere. The developers gave a thought to what people want in VAIO and what VAIO can provide given such a background. What do people expect from VAIO when the Internet is getting ever more accessible?
Takuma: Whether if it’s work or private, I want to type on a keyboard when I have something come up in my mind. Of course, I can key in the buttons on the cell phone and send it, but that takes too much time and I feel like I’ll lose the ideas. So, I really want to save my ideas when I go “ah!” in a café, drinking tea or something, and the keyboard is the fastest way to do that. It doesn’t have to be related to work: it could be a sentence, or word, or poem. Nowadays PCs are so close to us in our daily lives, and I think many users can identify with that.
Kawakami: Some day, I want to make a PC that I can use like a personal planner. Instead of sitting down and saying “OK, now I’m going to use the PC”, I want to carry it around, jot down memos, send e-mails, and take some photos really casually. I was looking for that kind of PC.
Takuma: Typing with the keyboard has become such a normal thing now. Using the keyboard is just as indispensable as handwriting. But instead of using a pencil, we want to use a fountain pen because it’s more comfortable to write and it’s cool to carry around. That is why I wanted to make sure you can type like this on the keyboard (gesturing to type with both hands).
Portability was the key concept in the development of the VAIO P-Series. What are some of the ways of usage that you had in mind when designing it?
Ito: I like to visit new places on the weekends. For example, I would look for new destinations or events to go to near the town I’m visiting. Today, you can go to the Internet and find information of the surrounding area on the map website. If we can develop a VAIO which can help you do that easily when you go out, then the Internet becomes more fun and life gets richer. I believe the VAIO P-Series can be the answer.
Suzuki: For example, if you look something up on the search engine, lots of results show up. You want to choose the information you want instantly out of what you get. To do that, a large-scale, high-resolution display is necessary. After thinking about the necessary characteristics of the VAIO P-Series, we installed a display that is horizontally long and big, and the liquid display of 1600 x 768 pixels.
Ito: When you see a map online, you can see two maps next to each other simultaneously without compromising the visibility of either. Usability is diminished if either the vertical or horizontal scale were too small. Looking at an online map away from home is one situation of usage we strongly focused on.
Ono: Speaking from the standpoint of a software developer, PC’s specs and the functionality of OS have advanced so much that it should make our lives so much more convenient. This may be only the first step of a big dream, but when I thought “what do we need?”, I thought GPS that can locate your position, even in a building, will be great. Sometimes you get lost in huge terminal stations or commercial facilities. What if we can make something people can use there? With the VAIO P-Series, we made practical applications and came up with creative ways to use them.
PC originally stands for “personal computer”, but not many people feel this way. What are the features of the VAIO P-Series that is more fun and makes people feel like expressing themselves?
Ito: At the early stage of planning the VAIO P-Series, we called it “Web Palette”. It looks like a palette for painting and that’s why it became the motif. You put paint on the palette and (with that paint) you paint on the canvas. So we want the users to use the palette called “VAIO P-Series” and express themselves more on a canvas called the web. We want people to carry them anywhere, anytime to send out messages. The reason we created “instant mode”, where you can connect to the Internet instantly from the power-off status, is that we wanted the users to take advantage of the extra 5 minutes they have in between things. This is another area VAIO is a pioneer in.
Ono: Maybe we had other options if we thought of only seeing the web. But what we wanted to create was not a pencil but a fountain pen. From that perspective we chose Windows Vista as our OS. I was surprised that the VAIO P-Series can play WMV 1080p full HD images normally. Even when we play it on the huge screen of Bravia, the images are clear on the full screen. This was comparable to a regular PC and was made possible only through the combination of Windows Vista and Intel Atom Processor (Z500 Series). But we asked ourselves if should be happy with just that. One of the great things about a portable electronics is that it can be used right away outside. The solution to such need was the “instant mode”. You can take it out really easily and connect to the Internet through wireless LAN. I thought can support the active lifestyle of a user by having the option to choose light footwork over full-functionality, running efficiently at the same time it is full-spec.
Always the shining star among the crowd of PCs, VAIO introduces its new platform appropriate for the Internet-driven century: the VAIO P-Series. The design focus was on its portability– something that can be “held and carried around”–the concept which has been long anticipated. It is a PC made to fit in human hand.
What procedures were taken to decide on the VAIO P-Series’s size, roundness, color selection and texture, with the distinctness of VAIO?
Takuma: Our challenge this time was to create a PC that can be effortlessly gripped on with a single hand. I thought it would be wonderful if people can just take it out of their travel bag or go “wow I can just grab it” when they are moving to a different floor at work. Like cell phones, people feel more intimate with the things that can be held with a single hand. We believed it had to be something that could be grabbed casually, rather than gently carried around. We think these concepts of size and shape are really important and they were the culprit in many of our heated discussions.
Hanazuka: Heated, huh? (LOL)
Kawakami: That’s right. (LOL)
Takuma: For example, even a few millimeters difference in length would make you go “hmm, something does not feel right”. In an extreme case, a change in your physical condition would make you perceive the size of the same thing differently, like “hey, isn’t this too big?”
Ito: These are all what people feel so they are all relative values. Each person is different. It was not like a set of numeric values existed as a correct answer, so coming to a consensus with everyone and narrowing down to one resolution was very challenging. Also, the PC design process doesn’t end just by settling its width; the next step is to finalize the shape such as deciding whether or not to round the edges, and the decisions made along the way would make the final picture come out completely different.
Have you had discussions this extensive before, about how a PC should be held?
Takuma: Well, PCs are definitely bigger than mobile phones. We have, in the past, rendered thinness, but I think making them “easy to hold” is a whole new approach. Instead of shrinking the conventional laptops, we designed the size and shape in accordance with the size of human hands, then picked and chose which functions and features to incorporate, making bold decisions along the way. When I speak with the design team, I say “the VAIO we’re making is not like a mini-vehicle made by shrinking a regular-sized passenger car. Rather, it is more like you open a driver or passenger door and you get a full-size seat, but without the extra storage space. It should be a premium product that makes you feel as if you’re driving a regular-size passenger car, so we should aggressively simplify things to make it possible.”
Were you concerned with any other aspects besides the width?
Takuma: We focused on the length as much as making it easy to grip on. The design team and I were talking about how we wanted to use the VAIO P-Series at cafés. A café table is small to begin with, and it’s cluttered with a glass of water, coffee cup and menu, etc., making the work space extremely limited. You can’t place a lengthy laptop on it.
Hanazuka: In terms of portability and functionality, The VAIO P-Series can fit in anywhere and is realistic in size for actual use. I’ve always felt that this is the maximum size when you consider the practicality.
Takuma: Further more, opening on the back of your computer, such as the battery cover, screws and heat release vents, would make you think twice before putting it on the café table. You wouldn’t want to put it on a surface where water droplets from a glass trickled. Although it’s not waterproof even if we covered all the openings, we reviewed everything possible to minimize vents and bumps.
The selection of four colors have precious stone motifs. With the concept of being a portable personal tool, what is the story behind this color selection?
Suzuki: We repeated discussions on this issue. I’m actually surprised the final product turned out to be almost identical to the mock model.
Hanazuka: Well, it’s our job to materialize the vision of our design team! (LOL)
Takuma: In the early stages of development, I remember discussing with Mr. Ito that “VAIO P-Series is for grown-ups who understand all they need is this laptop and carry it along as such. But something that is not a gadget and does not feel too mechanical”. It wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb on a businessperson in a fine suit, and would also fit right in with people in jeans with a leather jacket on weekends. With such vision in mind, one of the themes the Color & Material Team from the Creative Center came up with is “semiprecious stones”. The theme conveys a clean and pure feeling, inherent texture and an image of laminated layers. The Team could have opted to go with a more pop selection with pastel colors, but instead chose colors that express nuances of mature austere elegance. What I mean by nuances is, for example, that the color green wouldn’t be just plain green but a green that turns from blue to yellow-green hue depending on the angle. For red, we picked a red with the bordeaux base tone, which changes slightly at times. We selected colors that give off different nuances.
Ito: The color names are inspired from semiprecious stones: Onyx Black, Peridot Green, Garnet Red and Crystal White. Each of the color models has different wallpapers included, which are all designed with semiprecious stone motifs. Users can enjoy sharp and detailed images through the high-definition LCD.
Takuma: The VAIO P-Series is a laptop that expresses your personal style. This is one of the reasons why semiprecious stones used in jewelry are its motifs. We made four color themes, which aren’t pop or too soothing, more like jewelry and high-end fountain pen, for example. It should be a fine piece of stationery, but perceived as something like precious metal at the same time. We also have the multifaceted functions, features and roles expected in digital equipments, particularly laptops. When expressing these technologies, instead of a single color, we wanted the color to have multiple interpretations. With this in mind, we chose these colors with many nuances. A user can feel what he or she wants to feel from the color, according to his or her personal taste. We chose colors with nuances to express such idea. Hopefully, users can feel the vitality this product has to offer.
Hanazuka: To substantiate this color texture, we go through multiple coating processes before applying one last finish. This model has the most paint layers in the history of VAIO.
The VAIO P-Series can be used to express oneself freely, at the same time it is a premium mobile PC chosen by mature grown-ups. After the design team handed over this concept, the engineers specializing in mechanics, electronics and software took part in making it a commercial reality. The VAIO P-Series is a result of a dauntless craftsmanship.
What problems did you face in terms of fitting the necessary parts in this size when considering mass production?
Hanazuka: The width will practically be settled once the key pitch is decided. Then, we usually start seeking additional space in the length, but we couldn’t make it any bigger this time, because it was requested that it should be the size to be held in your hand and to be used on a café table. To make things worse, the basic parts alone took up the whole space inside at first.
Kawakami: We first start with deciding on the number of circuits to be included in the motherboard; then actually set them up on CAD through simulations. But I had this gut feeling from the beginning that they wouldn’t fit. For example, the clearance for the base was 6mm but the part was 7mm. (LOL)
Suzuki: When reducing size, we modified by, say, taking out the display output terminal to the external adapter. But we continued to challenge ourselves to not impair the basic functions and user-friendliness. For me, the most electrifying thing was that we decided to stack the memory card on top of the motherboard in the electrical circuit designing process. I believe that played a huge role in reducing size.
Kawakami: As I said earlier, the parts won’t all fit using the conventional method. Amid such situations, we considered taking out the memory card and placing other parts on the motherboard, at some point, so that it wouldn’t interfere with other high speed signals. The parts did indeed fit as a result, but the memory card remained outside, so we decided to place it under the motherboard in conclusion.
Shock resistant properties and toughness in mobile PCs are attracting attention. What new ideas were incorporated in the VAIO P-Series for outdoor usage?
Kawakami: Common circuit boards have only the green rigid part, but this flexible brown part here is generally called FPC (Flexible Printed Circuits). Normally, the FPC and rigid circuit are connected via a connector, but we layered the two circuits from the beginning and made it into one flex-rigid circuit board. Its biggest advantage is that the connector that links the rigid part and flexible circuit becomes unnecessary. With this, not only the connector space will become unneeded, but it will also prevent troubles caused by connectors disconnecting or going out of alignment when dropped. Also, because there is less contact area, adverse effect to the high-speed signals will decrease, improving the quality of the signals.
Suzuki: This laptop is probably the first PC to employ a flex-rigid board. The VAIO P-Series would have been a completely different product without it.
Kawakami: Flex-rigid boards themselves are often used in cell phones and digital cameras. Because these devices are much smaller and their boards are smaller too, it was challenging from both the electronic and cost standpoints. We had started assessments in 2007, and it finally became feasible for actual use, right when the VAIO P-Series project was about to start.
So the market demand, product planning, and technological advancement all came just at the right time. Do things always go this well?
Kawakami: Rarely. The technology may advance before demands for the product arise, or it may be that a product needs certain technology not yet available for a few more years. And there’s often the issue with costs. So I guess the technology and demand met just in time.
Hanazuka: In addition, slimming down the body this much weakens the durability, so we used carbon-mixed material in the chassis as we did with other models. This is how we successfully achieved the thinness without compromising the strength.
Suzuki: In the owner-made VAIO models, customers are granted the option to choose SSD for storage. Attributes such as its resistance to vibration and high-speed access make SSD a device advantageous to mobile PCs. I believe that having such an advanced device as an option is one of very attractive features The VAIO P-Series has to offer.
What approaches do you take in terms of battery life? Suzuki: Battery life plays a critical part in this mobile PC. The lifetime of the battery with the limited capacity has to be improved through modifying the electronic circuit and software. To accomplish this, we held a Battery Life Review Committee. In the meeting, we listed up ideas that were definitely feasible, somewhat feasible, and challenging but to be tried, then, conquered each one of them. Every little bit helps, so we are tenaciously working on this project.
What have you been doing specifically?
Ono: For example, we shut off the electric circuits for VGA port and Ethernet that the main body does not use when the adapter for external equipments is removed. We extend the overall operation time by adding up all the battery life saved from processes like this.
Suzuki: An even more specific example, let’s say that there’s an IC component equipped with a power-saving mode. But, such component is barely used in reality. It’s just too much of a hassle to design a practical system because even a slight mistake causes malfunctioning. However, these small things add up to prolong battery life, so we keep on trying.
Ono: I admit that we’re working behind the scenes and it’s uncertain whether our customers purchase the product because of this feature, but we’re taking on this challenge as engineers.
The VAIO P-Series comes with a keyboard with approximately 16.5mm pitch, 1600×768 pixel high-definition screen and a battery life of up to 9 hours. The developers’ quest for a more comfortable mobile PC continued until the very end.
How was the keyboard developed?
Takuma: If it was a product with existing form/factor, we would just use the empirical values and skip examinations. But it was a new series this time, and we weren’t able to draw deciding factors from the past. For example, there was nothing to compare with in terms of the comfortable height for the keys. Nevertheless, we had to approach in a three-dimensional manner to solve the problem. So, we materialized every conceivable idea into a mockup and decided on the best one with every person in the development team examining and touching them.
Hanazuka: The key stroke for keyboards with about 16.5mm pitch is very shallow. The depth is about 1.2mm, compared to the standard 2.5mm. Simply filing down keys makes the keyboard awkward to use, so we adopted a keyboard with new architecture. You’ll see what I mean when you actually type on it, but it delivers a quiet typing experience, and you probably can’t believe that it sinks only 1.2mm.
Suzuki: Speaking of quietness, we also took on a challenge to get rid of fans in the VAIO P-Series. Especially in the SSD model, there will be no fans, hence no spindle motors. We were talking that this will be the real “zero spindle” model come true.
Hanazuka: The laptop is designed to scatter heat throughout the computer using a magnesium body. It’s just that laptop computers are conventionally used on a desk, but the VAIO P-Series might not always be. It may vary where it gets placed depending on a situation, so we designed it with the temperatures of surfaces, the front and back, in mind.
Ono: Since it’s fan-less, you could probably feel its true quietness when using it late in the night at home. There would be neither humming of fans nor clicking sound of the hard disk.
Could you tell us about the VAIO P-Series accessories ?
Hanazuka: We are offering a display/LAN adapter that can be attached to the AC adapter, to be used as a single accessory. Many mobile PCs have external display adapters, but they are so easy to forget. You either forget to bring it with you or leave it behind away from your office/home. To avoid such situations, we designed it to be attachable to the AC adapter.
Ono: Users will also notice how small the AC adapter is. Carrying it along the laptop would still be very small and lightweight, so you can use the computer without worrying about the limited battery life.
Could you tell us how wireless device was employed in the accessories?
Suzuki: VAIO has been actively employing Bluetooth in its computers for quite some time. The extensibility made possible by Bluetooth is especially important for the VAIO P-Series as some of the external connection terminals have been eliminated. In addition to mouse, Sony offers other accessories such as GPS units and audio controllers.
Ito: In terms of wireless environment, we offer models with and without WAN capability. The WAN capable model in this series will be offered in stores for the first time. We want to have more people enjoy their PC experience anywhere, anytime.
Suzuki: We always want to surprise our customers. You can listen to the customers’ requests and make something passively, but we want to bring our visions as engineers and trend into our products and stimulate the users in an unexpected way.
Ito: There’s a phrase “the conscious in unconsciousness”. I believe that it’s our responsibility to have our customers be aware of the possibility. It’s our role to create products that seem to have come into existence through a mutation, and share the experience with everyone. The VAIO P-Series is such a product. Sony’s developing team is one of the best at creating products that customers have been “unconsciously” waiting for. We would like for you to expect nothing less from us in the future as well.
Information provided above was a courtesy of VAIO Singapore.