Sharp has come a long way since its founder, Tokuji Hayakawa
, invented the Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil, a mechanical pencil that eventually influenced the company name. Its 100 year history is continuing with the release of two Android based tablets targeted at the Japanese market.
Hayakawa’s career and the company began in 1912, when he opened a small metalworking shop in Tokyo, buoyed by Japanese patent #54,357 in 1920, and a belated US patent
in 1926. The business had been destroyed in the Great 1923 Kanto Earthquake
. It was rebuilt in Osaka and the company’s successes ebbed and flowed with the economy following WWII, riding through recovery, recession, and inflation.
Now, Japanese products wobble under the Galapagos Syndrome – as explained on the Galapagos Japan site
: For around 300 years, the Japanese lived on small islands closed to western countries, developing a unique culture, similar to how unique species develop in isolation. About 150 years ago, the country opened its doors, industrializing, but since they are "still not so good at communicating with other countries"
Japan still marches to its own drum so to speak.
Many of Sharp’s products were developed for their own country, but have since permeated the world. When Hayakawa got his hands on a crystal radio set, the die was cast. His little company produced the Sharp Dyne Type 31 radio with horn speaker in 1930. From 5,455 households purchasing a monthly license fee of 1 yen, they saw licenses increase to more than 500,000 in three years. AC vacuum tube radios quickly replaced the crystal sets, and with a mass production system Hayakawa’s company could build a unit in just 56 seconds. Hayakawa Metal Works was requisitioned by Army Aerial Headquarters to produce military communications equipment, and the ball was rolling.
In 1952, the company signed a basic patent agreement with RCA
of the United States. They produced a commercial television which was priced at 32 times the salary of a high-school educated Japanese worker. So, 17 inch models were placed for public viewing. Mass production of a 14 inch model brought TV’s into people’s homes in 1954, for watching sumo wrestling tournaments and professional baseball games.
The long road to Sharp’s new Android tablet had many twists and turns. Home appliances, refrigerators, electric fans, a safe kerosene heater, led the way. Then, in the 1960’s, electronic calculators from their Nara plant took center stage. The world's first all transistor-diode electronic desktop calculator, the CS-10A, generated intense competition which was the catalyst for strong advances in electronics technology. The calculator’s transistors were replaced with ICs [integrated circuits
]. Sharp developed the GND [gallium arsenic negative resistance light-emitting diode], an ideal photoelectric device enhancing the progress of optoelectronics. Optoelectronics fuses light and electronics, surpassing conventional optical data transmission technologies. Its major advantages are data compression, excellent reliability and high transfer rates.
Cooperating with North American Rockwell of the United States, which was involved in the Apollo moon landing, Sharp went into mass-producing extra large-scale integration [ELSI] chips.
The Xerox 914 copier
came out in 1960, with Sharp and IBM following suit in the next decade, although they have never overtaken Xerox’s grip on the market. Sharp’s offering was an electronic wet-toner copier. The progeny of that early machine is their MX-2600N MFP Digital Color Copier, which sells for over $4,600.
Sharp also brought out a front loading VCR, and revisited the calculator with the EL-805, an LCD unit. Prior to this, calculators used fluorescent tubes or light emitting diodes for the display, but switching to LCDs instantly reduced the power consumption to 1/100th.
The next decade found Sharp’s mass-produced thin film EL panels being used in the Space Shuttle. In 1984, the company unveiled 3D CAD [computer-aided design]/CAM [computer-aided manufacturing] systems. Their TFT-LCD module containing 92,160 pixels went into the LCD color TV, the Crystaltron.
As the 1980’s ended, Sharp had an English-Japanese translation system that used OCR [optical character recognition] to read English text and translate it into Japanese, a high-definition television [HDTV] LCD projector, the UX-1, the world's thinnest facsimile [fax machine], and something most people today take for granted – a cordless phone.
The final decade of the century saw improvements upon existing technologies. Sharp introduced the world's first wall-mount LCD TV, incorporating the industry's largest 8.6-inch TFT LCD with 437,760 pixels. They pulled the LCD ViewCam out of their hat, and came up with a PDA, the Pencom Zaurus
. The PI-3000 added facsimile transmission, PC linking, handwriting recognition, and multimedia.
Jumping on the "www" bandwagon in 1996, Sharp created both Japanese
and English websites
to promote their company. In order to launch the Android-based tablet, Sharp partnered with Quanta
Sharp partnered with many major companies over the years. In the 1990’s, Sharp and Sony Corporation announced that they would use plasma-addressed liquid crystal [PALC] technology to jointly develop large-screen flat display panels, Sharp formed an alliance with Cadence Design Systems, the LSI circuit design company, to jointly develop system LSIs for next-generation digital information appliances based on the data driven media processor [DDMP] developed by Sharp. A business agreement provided TFT LCD technology to Quanta Computer of Taiwan, the world’s largest contract laptop computer manufacturer, who manufactures units for major names, such as Dell, HP, and the One Laptop Per Child Foundation
. Quanta shipped 4.8 million laptops in June, 2010.
In 1998, the PC-PJ1 ultra-thin notebook was announced at the Tokyo Business Show. The decade closed as the Internet ViewCam
, the world's first video camera to use the MPEG-4 video compression standard, was released simultaneously in Japan, the US, and Europe
The new century began with Sharp's total worldwide copier production reaching 10 million in April 2000. The J-SH04, only released in Japan, was the industry's first mobile phone to feature an integrated 110,000-pixel CMOS image sensor for taking digital photos. It was followed by the industry's first application of a 65,536-color semi-transmissive TFT LCD on a flip type phone [J-SH05]. Wallpapers are available at Mobiles
The current decade, began with Sharp’s introduction on January 1, 2000 of the AQUOS LCD color TV. The world’s thinnest and lightest 12.1 inch notebook PC at that time came from Sharp. Its Muramasa used ATI's Rage Mobility-M graphics processor
with 4MB of integrated SDRAM. Muramasa had a proprietary retractable keyboard, metallic casing, and Rahmen structure. It also was released to the Japanese market.
Sharp became green-conscious early in the decade, developing a technology that allows repeated recycling and reuse of waste plastic as material for use in new products, including air conditioners, TV sets, refrigerators, and washing machines. Later, by 2008, Sharp’s energy-creating and energy-saving products more than balanced out its greenhouse emissions, two years ahead of their planned schedule.
Last year, Sharp and Pioneer Corporation launched their optical disk joint venture. Now, building on its long history, Sharp is again aiming for the Japanese market with two tablets that serve as a portal for buying e-books through an online bookstore. Looking more like tablets than e-Readers, Sharp’s Galapagos system incorporates the tablets and a media service which includes periodicals in its offerings. The Japanese public can select from a 5.5 inch or 10.8 inch device. TechNewsWorld
tells us that Sharp describes the device’s graphic abilities as being designed to appeal to the "book culture of Japan,"
in that they allow vertical writing and special characters called "ruby,"
used as pronunciation guides. They are Wi-Fi enabled, with an LCD display. The smaller is considered more portable, the larger model for at-home use.
A successful track record in Japan, however, hasn’t translated into world wide acceptance. "Japan is years ahead in any innovation. But it hasn’t been able to get business out of it,"
said Gerhard Fasol, president of the Tokyo-based IT consulting firm, Eurotechnology Japan
. Problems they encounter as a result of the Galapagos Syndrome were discussed in a New York Times article
Still, you must tip your hat to the persistence of Sharp in its many forms. The company name is recognized around the world, and is a force to be reckoned with in many arenas.
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