I started selling computers in 1989. Desktop computers. It took me three years to sell my first notebook. Despite the fact that desktops only hold a market share position of 22.6 per cent now, thirty years ago it was rare to see someone use a notebook. There were two main reasons – high price and poor performance.

The first notebook I did sell had a monochrome screen and was using the brand new 486SX processor along with 2MB of RAM and an 80MB hard drive. And I wanted one – but they were way too expensive for me to even contemplate. My dream at the time was to make enough money to afford a notebook!

The brand of that first notebook? Toshiba of course. Toshiba was the first company to sell a laptop PC. In 1985 they launched the T1100. It sold for $10,000 in current money and was a little ahead of its time. It ran MS-DOS and had the new 3.5-inch floppy disk drive. Pundits at the time thought it was too early to launch a portable product but the head of Toshiba’s PC business believed in portability and convinced his superiors that he could achieve 10,000 sales a year. At their peak, Toshiba sold 17.7 million notebooks annually!

Throughout their history of notebooks, Toshiba often led the way. I did manage to finally buy my own Toshiba notebook and Toshiba was my brand of choice for about fifteen years. I was very proud of my Satellite R20 which I purchased in 2006. It was a tablet notebook when most people used the term tablet to refer to medicinal pills. With a traditional notebook format as well as the ability to spin the screen on top of itself and use a stylus plus a docking station to use it as a replacement desktop, it truly was a three in one device.

But alas, in a lesson that will be shared in business schools for several decades, even the mighty can fall. After thirty-five years in the notebook business, many as the leading brand in the world, Toshiba notebooks are no more. This week witnessed the sale of the final twenty per cent of the Toshiba notebook division to Sharp. In 2018 Sharp purchased eighty per cent of the business for a miserable $36 million. When you consider WhatsApp was bought by Facebook for $19 billion, it does seem like loose change.

Despite a reputation for innovation, in the end it was the changing market that saw the demise of Toshiba notebooks. Market share for notebooks is currently almost twice that of desktop PCs with 42.4 per cent but Toshiba’s sales fell from 17.7 million a decade ago to less than a million in 2018. The surge in popularity of the iPad and other tablets was part of the problem. Tablets took out a 35 per cent market share last year – but the reality was that more players crowded the market and Toshiba lost their reputation as market leaders. Quite the opposite in fact. After fifteen years of relying on Toshiba for my personal notebook, there came a day a few years ago when I simply couldn’t ignore the fact that buying a Toshiba was tantamount to buying yesterday’s technology. And so I didn’t.

To quote supercoach Jack Gibson, “If you are standing still, you’re going backwards fast” and never is that more obvious than in the technology space.

The successful technology businesses of tomorrow are the innovators of today – the ones pushing the boundaries to see what is possible.

Tell me if you ever owned a Toshiba notebook at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson

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