Toshiba: In the Drivers Seat With Its PCs

Studies show that people relate to and remember positive reviews more than negative ones. These hypotheses usually focus on movies and cars, but I suppose they should apply to the computer industry.

Studies show that people relate to and remember positive reviews more than negative ones. These hypotheses usually focus on movies and cars, but I suppose they should apply to the computer industry. Now Im wondering what it says about me when everyone I know dwells on whats wrong with this industry and how things dont work. I suppose technology just cant provide the satisfaction of a good drive on an open road or a good movie.

Its not for lack of trying. Apple has long tried to blend aesthetics with computing and has marginally succeeded. The PC industry usually tries to copy Apple and to simply outexecute the Cupertino, Calif., company, and it has been phenomenally successful.

Now the PC industry is in a state of confusion, and most vendors are wondering what to do next. Dell still outexecutes the competition and is moving up the enterprise chain. Gateway is experimenting with friendliness and new programs, such as Your:ware, designed to keep the customers satisfied even as computers become obsolete more quickly than ever.

Meanwhile, Toshiba—an underdog in the market despite its gargantuan size—offers the clearest demonstration of where this industry is heading.

First, Toshiba has realized that, as the costs of notebooks plummet, its getting tougher to make a sustainable business of simply manufacturing them. Thats why the company has begun to include 802.11b wireless connectivity in its Tecra 8200 notebooks.

Even with wireless support included, the Tecra is about the same price as its competition. Follow this trend out a little, and its easy to see an analogy with that old saw about the shaving industry: Razor companies dont make money from the razors, which they basically give out for free, but from selling the blades. Toshiba will make its money from infrastructure services such as 802.11 wireless installations (which Toshiba offers at bargain rates) or Bluetooth implementations (not quite yet), not from the individual units themselves.

Meanwhile, Toshiba offers all-in-one appliances. And although theres room for a lot of improvements in its new Magnia line (which has an old operating system and no support for VPNs), the company is not going to make money on the units themselves but on a rapidly growing list of online services that its customers can tap into when they need them.

Toshiba is way ahead on pushing wireless, and I suspect that other vendors will quickly catch on to the value of offering downloadable services. But at least one company is pushing a tired industry in a new direction.