In the last decade, there have been a number of companies that have collapsed, or came close to it, following the huge technological disruptions that took place and continue to do so at an exponential rate.
Kodak is the poster child for companies that have met a fateful end under the weight of an evolving business landscape, especially as digital technology has proliferated in all aspects of our lives. In January 2012, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy as the world shifted from film printing, which was its core business, to digital. Although a Kodak engineer invented the first digital camera in 1975, an overdependence on film printing and inability to pivot as digital photography took over resulted in it having to sell off thousands of its patents, particularly in the consumer imaging space.
The business has, since then, been reorganised into a “technology company focused on imaging” through both research and development, as well as partnerships with other technology companies. From a consumer perspective, while Kodak continues to be involved in the production of digital cameras and photograph printing and supplies, it also produces eyeglass lenses, LED lighting and home video monitors. Other key divisions are: print, which provides digital printing solutions, press room cleaning materials, flexographic printing machines, and offset CTP systems; film, which provides camera films in different formats for movies, as well as lab support; and, science, where it leverages the years of R&D in the printing sector as well as the partnerships to supply everything from 3D printing solutions to industrial materials.
The company relisted on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.
Nokia’s fall from grace was painful to watch considering it introduced many firsts in the mobile space, including the first mobile handheld phone, the Mobira Cityman 900 in 1987, and the first 3G phone, the Nokia 6620, in 2002. Nokia dominated the mobile phone market, eventually selling their billionth phone in 2005. The slide began in 2001 and, while the company remained the top phone manufacturer in the world until 2011 when Apple surpassed them, for some years before that other manufacturers, including BlackBerry, Samsung and HTC to name just a few, had started cutting into its market share.
Scrambling to remain at the forefront, Nokia partnered with Microsoft, that eventually bought their devices and services division in 2013, only to sell the feature phone business to Foxconn Technology Group, which manufactures components for a broad range of technology companies, and Finland-based HMD Global Oy. HMD was established to drive Nokia-branded phones and tablets and has a licensing agreement with Nokia Technologies as well as branding rights from Microsoft. It has since launched a series of Nokia phones, including the flagship Nokia 8, Nokia 6 and Nokia 5, all running Android OS. The company has also re-released the iconic Nokia 3310.
Nokia Corporation, on the other hand, has focused its business on connectivity, including virtual reality, cloud, digital health, ultra broadband, IP interconnectivity and the Internet of Things.
Founded in 1951 in Japan and initially manufacturing microphones, Aiwa went on to be a market leader in audiovisual products, including stereos, car radios, headphones, televisions, video machines, walkmans, portable cassette and CD players and the first-ever cassette deck. The 1980s and early 1990s were good to Aiwa but, as the audio landscape evolved in the latter part of the 1990s into the 2000s, it struggled to keep up and in 2002, Sony Corporation, which already had a significant shareholding of the business, took over full ownership. Unfortunately, this was not enough to keep the brand going and in 2008, Sony stopped production of Aiwa products.
Aiwa has been reborn under the tutelage of American Joe Born, after being approached by a Mark Thomann, who is said to have bought the brand rights and trademark in 2013. Interestingly, there are reports that in Japan a company called Towada Audio Co., which has been a Sony supplier, bought the brand name in early 2017 and has established a new company called “aiwa”, through which it is planning to launch everything from televisions to home audio.
Aiwa (with a capital A) is operating in South Africa and currently, its main product is the Exos-9 Bluetooth speaker, with accessories. It will be launching the X15 Portable Bluetooth PA speaker soon.
Research In Motion (RIM), the creators of BlackBerry, changed the way we worked with our mobile devices as professionals with the BlackBerry range of mobile phones, particularly by making it easy to check emails on the move. When you look at the ease of accessing emails on smartphones today one forgets that at the time BlackBerry came into the market, this just wasn't possible!
BlackBerry went on to dominate the business and public sectors and, with services like BBM, also changed the face of communications, laying the foundation for Whatsapp, Telegram and other instant messaging apps. However, the reality was that once everyone else started encroaching on this unique selling point, BlackBerry struggled to keep up.
Now, TCL Communication, which was incorporated in Hong Kong, has a branding license agreement to manufacture and sell BlackBerry phones and early in 2017, launched the Blackberry KEYone, running Android.
Will they stay or will they go?
It's going to be interesting to track the trajectories of these technology companies that crumbled at the forefront of their industries. Each held a special place in our lives and it would be a pity if they didn't find a way of reviving their fortunes.
...an overdependence on film printing and inability to pivot as digital photography took over resulted in it having to sell off thousands of its patents...