I never tried the calculator-like keyboard on a thinkpad but I think I can live with that (as long as the feeling of individual keys stays the same). Could help with cleaning.
But for the love of God, why would they change the layout on laptops where there's enough space for a 7-row keyboard?!? I love the current ThinkPad keyboards, the layout and trackpoint are the main advantages of this notebook line. The functional keys separated in groups are a great thing, I can always find them without looking. Same goes for the InsDelHomeEndPgUpDn block. Why change what works so well for millions?!
(only thing I wouldn't miss are the Back/Forward keys around the arrow keys - way to often I pressed it accidentally, only to lose all my text on a page; didn't need it on my T43 either)
Whether they actually say it or not, it's a cost thing. The lenovo non-thinkpad series basically hijacks what it can from the thinkpad line. You can see it with the keyboards actually. In their mindset, idea whatevers are a consumer grade, thinkpads are business grade. Look at the keyboards though, they are virtually identical already. The consumer trend is to do the stupid chicklets, and if they have to deal with separate lines, they lose margin.
I'm sure they would love nothing more than to merge the lines entirely and kill off thinkpad, but what you are realistically going to see is more of a standardization of things with the ideapads getting the scraps and the thinkpads getting the newest junk they dreamed up.
With the entire laptop market being entirely commoditized for the most part, the only thing they have to do is keep quality higher than the competition in terms of repairs, but they are still using mostly off-the-shelf crap where quality doesn't matter all that much. Make sure they are using the better stuff from off the shelf, keep it black, stick a nipple on it, pretend to care what users want while selling hard on the value of less maintenance to the IT acquisitions people and poof, done. That's all they need to do.
As far as users... claiming that new design X costs more to make than old feature Y is obviously a strategy to continue to justify premium and shut up dissenters. The hilarious thing is that they claim that a 4:3 or 16:10 high-res screen would cost an extra $100 and is therefore impossible. The huge demand for it, with them being the only ones willing to do it... they would capture that entire segment overnight. But no, that's not gonna happen because a strip of black plastic is cheaper than screen.
Why are they going to a 6-row? The end goal is to reduce the size enough to probably get rid of that black strip, but it's gotta be gradual to get away with.
It's all, to be honest, really stupid.