Everywhere you look these days there seems to be a carbon fiber something or other. You can buy a carbon fiber wallet for that special man in your life. If you are sporty, you can invest in carbon fiber golf clubs, bicycles, and tennis rackets. Even laptop makers are getting in on the game. But should they? Does the world really need carbon fiber laptops?
Lenovo just released the seventh iteration of their ThinkPad X1 laptop complete with carbon fiber case. Its claim to fame is a thinner case that makes the package a bit lighter. There are rumors that Apple is looking at carbon fiber reinforcements to strengthen the displays on future MacBooks.
We get it. Carbon fiber is the new darling among laptop manufacturers. It’s all due to the perception that customers want lighter machines that are easier to carry. But that perception might not actually be true. It might be that consumers are just tired of carrying around laptops altogether.
Laptops vs. Mobile Devices
Answering the carbon fiber laptop question requires looking at how people actually use their computers. Laptops serve two primary purposes: getting online and doing some sort of productive work. This is pretty straightforward. But what kinds of people are we talking about in both instances?
There is one group of people whose computer use is governed almost entirely by what they do online. They check e-mail, visit social media sites, watch streaming videos, and so forth. The other group are those who use their laptops for work. They work with word processors and databases. They crunch numbers in their spreadsheets and send documents to their colleagues.
Here’s the thing: you no longer need a laptop to go online. In fact, statistics show that accessing the internet with a smartphone or tablet is the preferred method among consumers. In 2018, 58% of all website visits came from mobile devices. Furthermore, 42% of the total time consumers spent online was spent with a mobile device.
That brings us back to using a laptop for work. If you’re a person who has to take your work with you, a lighter laptop might be a good thing. Then again, maybe all the software you use is hosted in the cloud. You might be able to do some of your work – if not all of it – on a tablet.
Trying to Hold the Market
Based on what we know about laptops and mobile devices, the whole carbon fiber thing might really just be an attempt by laptop makers to hold onto market share. Perhaps they think adding carbon fiber might even win back what has been lost to mobile devices. Whatever the case, carbon fiber appears here to stay.
Whether or not the world needs carbon fiber laptops doesn’t change the fact that the material itself exhibits characteristics that make it an ideal choice. Carbon fiber is up to five times stronger than steel yet extremely lightweight. For the purposes of making laptop cases, it’s also easy to work with.
Rock West Composites, a Utah company that specializes in composites like glass and carbon fiber, says that carbon fiber laptop cases can be made in a couple of different ways. A manufacturer can use virgin carbon fiber fabric and the tried-and-true manual layup. Another can use recycled carbon fiber material that has been pressed into a plate and then cut to the right size and shape.
There is no arguing that carbon fiber is a great manufacturing material. But do we need it in our laptops? Ultimately, the market gets to decide.