Toshiba attacks U.S. market

Toshiba rolls out a new line of consumer PCs, the first salvo in an attack that promises to escalate into a massive assault on other major U.S PC markets in the coming months.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read
Toshiba today launched a new line of consumer PCs, the first salvo in an attack that promises to escalate into a massive assault on other major U.S computer markets in the coming 12 months.

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As previously reported by CNET, the Infinia consumer line will mark Toshiba's break from a decade-old, portable-PC-only computer business and highlights inherent strengths the company will leverage as it enters new markets.

The Infinia lineup is a convergence product that spans both the consumer electronics and PC world, playing to Toshiba's electronics expertise. The line includes features such as a push-button panel with an LCD screen for displaying command options such as turning on the built-in TV, remote-control push-button operation, and other consumer convergence technologies, including a built-in radio. CompUSA, the retail outlet giant, started selling the PCs on Tuesday.

The heavy emphasis on true consumer features underscores the major challenges facing U.S. consumer PC vendors as home electronics companies like Toshiba enter the computer market.

Currently, consumer PCs sold in the American market--mostly by U.S. companies--are a manifestation of a business PC heritage, but "these (PCs) are going to become a thing of the past," said Richard Zwetchkenbaum, an analyst at International Data Corporation, a market research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts. "The Sonys and Toshibas are going to accelerate the transition of a PC to a household-friendly device. There will be less computing and more entertainment and communications."

Alluding to the enhancements that Japanese vendors like Toshiba can offer in their consumer PCs, he said: "People are used to pushing buttons when they play a CD or when they listen to voice mail, or change channels (on a TV). They also want the immediate feedback you get from these push-button controls."

But the business market also beckons. Here, Toshiba can again leverage intrinsic company strengths, given that it is already the leading supplier of notebook PCs to businesses and has acquired invaluable expertise in the distribution of business-class computers.

In early 1997, the company will roll out desktop PCs for corporations. Then, later in the year, it will enter the PC server market.

"There's something that can be said for one-stop shopping," Zwetchkenbaum added, referring to the fact that Toshiba will be able to walk into a company and offer not only notebooks, but desktops and servers too. However, he also cautions that Toshiba still has a long way to go to catch up to companies such as Compaq in the overall value it can provide to business customers in areas such as service and support for commercial desktop PCs and servers.

But the general impact on the market is unquestionable. "Just by entering a new market, you get a big lift (in market share). All of sudden Toshiba will be shipping hundreds of thousands of systems in a major market it was never in before," Zwetchkenbaum said.

"Just look at Hewlett-Packard: It was a nonparticipant in the consumer market and a limited participant in the portable market. By moving into new markets, they've had significant growth and are now a top-ten PC company.

"This could put Toshiba among the top five."

Infinia comes in three models: the 7130, 7166, and 7200, based on 133-, 166-, or 200-MHz Pentium processors respectively. Hard drives are available in capacities as large as 3GB. The system comes with either 16 or 32MB of EDO RAM.

Each system includes the following:

--Infinia's InTouch Module which fits into Toshiba's multimedia monitor. It comes with either an interactive LED or LCD display for one-touch execution of tasks such as answering the phone, checking telephone messages, playing compact discs, or tuning the TV or FM radio, according to the company. The InTouch LCD display tells users the number of messages waiting, or what television or radio station they've selected.

--An InTouch Remote control, packaged with the LCD display, replicates the InTouch Module while also doubling as a wireless mouse.

--A built-in TV and FM Radio as well as a video capture card, all come standard in the Infinia 7200. It is optional in the Infinia 7130 and 7160.

Infinia home PCs are now available. Pricing ranges between $1,699 and $2,799.

Toshiba is expected to refresh the line later this year with the addition of peripherals such as DVD (digital video disc) drives. Intel is manufacturing the PCs for Toshiba, according to Japan-based reports.