The VAIO Z Story Continues…

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Unleash the power user from their charger.

Two weeks had passed since the media crush at the VAIO Z presentation at the “VAIO Meeting 2015”, where approximately 200 fans by lottery invitation were in attendance, and when comments like “I bought my VAIO Z!” and “My VAIO Z arrived!” started to appear on many of the social networking sites, including Twitter. The VAIO development team – even general VAIO members – scrambled to catch comments when they were able. And while it was satisfying to read positive reviews, it was the few harsher reviews that motivated us to meet difficulties by challenging ourselves, to create more value. The VAIO spirit never wavered, even when it meant we must change course. And just as we at VAIO had thought all along, “market trends” would not determine our future – the voice of the individual user would.

“Mobile PC notebooks today are known as ‘ultra-thin’ or ‘ultrabooks’, with thinness and lightweight achieved by reducing the battery size and power. And while that’s a perfectly acceptable direction to take your PC development, not at VAIO. Sacrificing battery power for appearance to us means you are diminishing the true nature of the PC as a business tool,” explained Imai, the mechanical designer.

 

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The VAIO approach was to outfit a PC with all of the necessary components but without increasing its size and weight. It was with this understanding that the VAIO Z was equipped with a 58Wh high capacity battery in a device approximately 16.8mm thin and 1.34kg in weight. The device’s skeleton when viewed from below gives away how large the battery is. The Z ENGINE™ comprises approximately one-fourth of the space with the remaining occupied by a white battery.

Why, given our dedication to high density mounting, was this much space dedicated to the battery? It’s simple – we want this PC to have the ultimate response time wherever you choose to call your office, and not always be tethered by a charger to an outlet. To make it even simpler – just because we wanted to.

“Although we suggest that the battery can last for an entire day, the actual time can vary according to the user and what kind of tasks are done. We conducted in-house research and testing to better understand battery consumption in a typical day,” explained Takei, the battery designer. To take our understanding of power usage even further, we consulted all other departments such as design, manufacturing, sales, planning, human resources, and general affairs.

These findings, and the assumed higher consumption by the TDP28W processor, suggested we should set our target daily battery run time for ease of use at 15 hours. And despite adopting a battery with 58Wh capacity to meet this need, we still aimed to surprise ourselves with the level of power saving we could achieve.

Simply increasing the size of the battery makes the PC heavier, so we had to consider how to create the longest charge with the smallest battery. That is the VAIO approach. “Scores of engineers checked every one of over 2,000 components to make minute power saving changes here and there, and just to compile a few milliwatts of improvement. It sounds like ‘just a drop in the bucket’, but even a few milliwatts can make a difference when you review all 2,000 parts,” explained Itakura, the power supply designer.

Because of the intense devotion of the engineers, VAIO Z was rated at 15.5 hours of battery life under the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) Battery Run Time Measurement Method Ver. 2.0 (see catalog), and 20.2 hours under JEITA 1.0. We created the longest battery life in VAIO’s history. “Constantly worrying about the battery life won’t distract you from your work. I can’t wait for the customers to experience this,” bragged Itakura.

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A battery laid bare leads to innovation.

To create a powerful and compact battery, the VAIO Z had to modify the structure of the component itself. Most PCs have battery packs enclosed in a resin “skin” that comes as is from battery manufacturers, but we chose to scrap the resin case and then build the battery to achieve both power and thinness. We could pursue this innovation because our battery design and manufacturing is done in-house. The result of peeling off of the “skin” increased power capacity of approximately 50% compared to that of the battery with the “skin” still intact. Of course, this modification was not something we could do just because we had thought it up. Any new technology or change to a component’s design has many hurdles which must be tested and cleared before they can be applied to the product. Milestones must be set up so that you can plot points where progress can be managed, letting the concept evolve slowly, steadily, and naturally.

The VAIO Duo 13, which is a generation older, reached a point in development where we were almost able to take off half of the resin case. It was finally on the VAIO Z that were able to take the entire case off, and boast that this innovation also improved the strength and rigidity of the entire PC. “To replace the function of the resin case, we made the body of the PC casing more durable. Furthermore, we attached the battery securely to the case with an adhesive to prevent any internal movement or shifting,” explained Takei.

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Remains rigid and strong on every surface even without support.

From your desk to the meeting room, when moving your chair to sit next to someone, there are going to be times when you have to hold your open PC in one hand. VAIO has consistently worked to improve rigidity in such situations so that your device will not warp or bend, even when held aloft in one hand as a criteria.

Our challenge was to create strength with a lightweight design. “We wanted a high level of rigidity in the device, but if it adds to the weight we’ve lost sight of the goal. By taking the natural characteristics of the materials into consideration, we devised a “sandwich” casing of aluminum and uni-direction (UD) carbon fiber,” explained Imai, the mechanical designer. For the top casing and palm rest we used aluminum for a luxurious tactile feeling of strength.

We had to be careful since using metal, even aluminum, can increase the weight of the device, so for the bottom casing we used UD carbon which is lightweight and resists heat absorption. This was critical since the positioning of components on the bottom casing meant they would generate heat.

In Vol. 01 of this development story, we talked about how we became obsessed with craftsmanship, making improvements during all stages of production, even the final one just before mass production. The improvements to rigidity and strength when held by a single hand is a perfect example of that obsession. “It honestly was a last minute design improvement, but everyone agreed and worked together to create something to delight the customer. This was the development team’s shared goal and ultimately why we were able to be a success,” explained Takei.

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Value beyond the spec chart.

“You can’t help but notice the integrity and attention to detail when you press a key or switch on the VAIO Z.” This was a tweet Kasai noticed on Twitter one day. And on the day after the announcement, Kasai conducted promotional interviews with numerous media outlets, and while he discussed the merits of the device, he never mentioned this. That was because on the VAIO Z every key and switch was engineered to provide this experience. We calibrated all keys and switches to provide a satisfying and secure response when pressed. “There are specs the consumer will never acknowledge that we felt we had to pursue anyway. It makes me happy just knowing they were achieved,” reflected Kasai.

There were an untold number of measurements made to ensure customer satisfaction. The sound of the keyboard as keys are struck is a good example. It was the first time in VAIO’s history that we tackled innovating a “silent keyboard”. The keyboard and frame are normally attached with a minute space between them according to their rigidity and measurements. But the two parts can rub together in that space which leads to an abrasive sound when typing.

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This is why we innovated parts with a high-impact tolerance for added sound-deafening. And that is not the only countermeasure to noise reduction. A lubricant was applied to the metal bar beneath large keys such as Enter and Shift to help reduce friction, and thereby further reducing the noise impact.

There were an endless number of innovations that impassioned us, but then, the mere existence of a device like the VAIO Z impassioned us. In this part of the story, we will end on the unique tactile nature of the touchpad.

It can be stressful to experience varying response times to key strikes. In order to provide a uniform response it was necessary to build a keyboard on a sturdy surface that resists warping and bending. After repeated tests on prototype models, we chose mica. And after the material was chosen the only thing left to decide was its thickness. It turned out to be the final change to the device that we made.

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The VAIO Z’s touchpad is broader than the VAIO DUO 13, and we knew that if the touchpad was broader, the thickness of the mica slab provided an opportunity for greater impact and enhanced response. We had planned on a 0.7mm mica slab right up until the stage before mass production, but in order to make the most of the material and its unique “click” response, we upgraded to a 1mm slab, which is the maximum thickness a sensor can detect.

“Personally, I had the strongest connection to the touchpad. I was concerned how it would be reviewed in articles and on Twitter. When I would read a post saying, ‘the #1 touchpad in a Windows product’, I felt very proud,” said Imai.

Here at VAIO, we truly aim to listen to the user’s voices and visualize how to meet their needs. So the VAIO Z’s development story doesn’t end there. Perhaps we will explore innovations that the users are unaware of and further the human experience?

To be continued in Vol. 4.

See the VAIO Z here.