Incredibly the last typewriter made in the UK was in November 2012 by Brother and it’s gone into a museum.
Typewriters are a great example of why you need to do a Pest Analysis to look for political, economic, social and technological opportunities and threats.
Typewriters & The Destructive Force Of Technology
It was technology that killed the typewriter.
With the invention of first word processors and then PCs with word processing software, the typewriter was pushed far down the customer value map with a low relative customer value which is uncompetitive unless the price is also low.
Delving deeper into the value attribute map, shows why.
A typical typewriter doesn’t have the ability to save what’s been written. This is a problem for both repeating the same letter with minor modifications since the entire thing would need to be retyped and for making corrections much more fiddly. Can you remember Tippex white paint and struggling to line up the paper in the right place?
It also doesn’t have the flexibility to do other things. A typewriter types documents. A PC can do the same task but also run spreadsheet programs, games, connect to the Internet and receive emails etc.
Why Have Typewriters Last So Long?
Given the advantages of PCs and software packages like Microsoft Office, perhaps the bigger question is “how have typewriters lasted so long?”
A manual typewriter has the advantage that you don’t need electricity.
But the last typewriter made in the UK was an electric typewriter.
So there have been small groups of people who have created enough demand for about 5,000 typewriters per year.
This includes people who have no need for the extra facilities that a PC provides, people who refuse to adapt to a PC. I know I’ve sometimes wished for simpler, easier to use technology that has half the facilities for two thirds of the price.
There will also be some people who don’t have the space for a PC and printer. They fill my desk.
Listening to an executive from Brother talk about the remaining pockets of demand, it appears that UK prisons don’t allow inmates to have PCs. If prisoners want to type, they have to use a typewriter.
What Do You Think?
Typewriters have been an example I’ve used for many years of technology making some products possible and some products obsolete. Can you think of other products where technology has overwhelmed demand for an existing product?
E.g. motorised transport and the trains replaced horse-drawn carriage for people and goods. For long distances over oceans and seas, the aeroplane has replaced the ship for small, lightweight and urgent items.
I’d also like to hear your thoughts about why the demand for typewriters has existed for so long, despite technology advances. It helps to show that a product may go into mass obsolescence but sales don’t have to drop to zero if someone has such special needs as to make the more advanced product unsuitable.