In 2016, Foxconn – Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. – made the news as the first foreign company taking control over a 100-year-old Japanese electronics company, SHARP Corp. (here, and here). In the process, Foxconn installed Tai Jeng-wu as Chairman and CEO of the LCD company, holding up to 66% of its shares. But Hon Hai’s participation – down to 34% – is expected to drop more after the company reported a $1.9 billion loss in 2023. At the same time, hope for Sharp’s recovery after the capital injection while keeping its centennial enterprise culture goes out the window. It’s too bad. I am afraid we won’t see a new pocket computer branded SHARP in the future.
This situation results from mismanagement and a bit of stubbornness on SHARP’s side, betting its future on the LCDs’ highly volatile and competitive market. Since LCDs are only a tiny part of electrical vehicles (EVs), we can suppose that Foxconn will continue to divest from SHARP as the Taiwanese company is refocusing on the EV market, distancing itself from mobile phones as well.
SHARP’s error was investing massively in Japan’s LCD manufacturing (Kameyama and Sakai multi-billion dollar plants). At the same time, SONY, Samsung, and LG were gaining market shares and competition, lowering their production costs drastically, leading to a saturated market. In other words, SHARP maintained a vertically integrated manufacturing strategy instead of outsourcing as its competitors.
Although SHARP tried focusing on the high-end LCD TV market, with its AQUOS brand and on licensing first, then on the OEM market (including a joint venture with SONY, terminated in 2012 as SHARP put its own needs before its customers), as a result, SHARP failed in both businesses. Add to it the emergence of better technologies such as OLED, and SHARP is paying the price for its overconfidence and strategic missteps.
But this was not always the case! Indeed, SHARP had several success stories in the licensing business, especially with its pocket computers. Certainly, in 1980, SHARP made its iconic business move: launch the right product at the right time. In the same way, as the Nipon company launched the first solar-powered calculator, the first Japanese TV (Sharp model TV3-14T), the first microwave, the first 4-bit Japanese microprocessor, or the first wall-mount LCD TV, it introduced the PC-1211, the first BASIC-programmable pocket computer, to the world. Although revolutionary, the real success story was the PC-1500 family, the best system on the market between 1981-85. Including one of the rarest models, the D (here).
Three countries produced the PC-1500 under various SHARP licenses: the US with Tandy (the TRS80 PC-2), Hungary with Hiradástechnika Szövetkezet (the PTA-4000 and PTA-4000+16), and China by Nanfeng, from the beautiful Guizhou province (southwest China).
Today, I’ll share about the Nanfeng, a.k.a. South Wind (南风). Or I should say South Abundance (南豐), as my friend Henry explained, and whom I must thank for finding me this rarissime missing model from my collection. Indeed, if you look at the advertisement from the excellent pc-1500 info website (here), 國營南豐機械廠 translates to State-owned Nanfeng Machinery Factory. The four-digit phone number (3941) definitively places the print in the early 80s. According to China Daily, in 1978, only 0.38% of families had a telephone. China had 1% of the telephones deployed worldwide in ’78. One piece of evidence at a time! We will find more information on the company as we go.
This will conclude today’s post. I just wanted to share my latest and one of the greatest aquations – thank you again, Henry! As soon as our move is over, I will take my Nanfeng PC-1500 apart and share a few inside pictures, along with the two other licensed PC-1500s. For now, enjoy the early images.