13-08-2020 | By Sam Brown
Recently, Toshiba announced that it would sell the remained of its computer and laptop operations to Sharp after 35 years of working in the sector. Who is Toshiba, what products did Toshiba produce, and what will Toshiba look towards for its future endeavours?
Toshiba is a Japanese multinational conglomerate with its headquarters located in Minato, Tokyo. Toshiba provides a wide range of services and products in many industries, including semiconductors, discrete electronics, hard drives, printers, and quantum cryptography. Founded in 1890, the company has over 140,000 employees worldwide with yearly revenue of ¥3.693 trillion, and an operating income of ¥35.4 billion. Toshiba is arguably most known for its consumer-end products, including televisions, laptops, and flash memory.
One of the biggest challenges faced by early computer makers was creating a portable machine that would allow individuals to work while on the move. The reasons for the difficulty came from a multitude of problems, including heavy batteries, bulky floppy drives, and CRT screens that can easily weigh into the tens of kilograms. The first portable computer, called the Osborne, was developed in 1981, but its reliance on a mains plug made the computer more of a “luggable” as opposed to a portable platform (a battery pack was available, but only as an optional add-on). While the Osborne was the worlds first portable computer, the first IBM compatible PC laptop was produced by Toshiba in 1985, and offered MS-DOS 2.11, integrated an Intel 80C88 4.7MHz processor, 256KB RAM, internal 3.5” floppy drive, and a 640 x 200 display. Measuring only 4.1KG, the Toshiba T1100 is considered the first mass-produced laptop computer and provided a standard that other manufacturers would quickly follow.
While Toshiba has a long history producing PC compatible computers and laptops, the recent fall in sales has led to Toshiba selling the remainder of its stake in Dynabook to Sharp. To better understand just how much sales have fallen, Toshiba was selling over 17 million computers in 2011 and had dropped to just 1.9 million in 2017. This fall in sales resulted in Toshiba pulling out from the European market in 2016, but even this move did not help entirely. The exact reason for this reduction in sales cannot be attributed to any one cause, but the mass influx of mobile devices such as tabs and smartphones, as well as the introduction of cloud-based applications, means that tasks that would typically be done on a computer can now be done of much smaller, more convenient devices.
“Consumer demand for laptops has soared in the last few months because of the Coronavirus pandemic and global lockdowns, but overall, the market for personal computers has been tough for quite a while. Only those who have managed to sustain scale and price (like Lenovo), or have a premium brand (like Apple) have succeeded in the unforgiving PC market, where volumes have been falling for years.”
Marina Koytcheva, CCS Insight.
While the PC market is incredibly vast, it is only a small sector that Toshiba has specialised in. This year (2020), Toshiba announced its plans to launch quantum cryptography services, develop affordable solid-state LiDAR, and produce hydrogen fuel cells. Toshiba also continues to develop its other industrial sectors, including electronic storage (FLASH, HDDs, etc.), building systems (elevators), energy systems, infrastructure, and retail. Such a move by Toshiba makes sense when considering that quantum computers are starting to find real-world application, governments around the world are trying to move towards green technologies, and the rapid increase in internet usage is putting a strain on data centres.