Remember When Japanese Electronics Firms Were Dominant? Now They're Apple Suppliers

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It was a very bad year for the country's gadget makers.

sonywalkman_615.jpg

Glory days! You could have played that Springsteen tape in here, too (flickr/rockheim).

From Neojaponisme, we find this pretty bleak assessment of the electronics scene in that country. Dominant throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Sony, Sharp, and all the rest have fallen on hard times. And with Apple swallowing up a vast chunk of all the profit made from the sale of gadgets, the conglomerates that defined my childhood have been reduced to making parts for Apple's glitzy products.

2012 was one of the most disastrous years for the bloated electronics industry since its inception. Sharp, Panasonic, and Sony started the year off with bad news but thoughtful hopes -- selling off factories to Chinese investors, realigning product foci, and even looking to create new product lines! -- but ended up reporting losses totaling to ¥1.23 trillion ($15.3 billion). The massive investments failed to pay off, and now Sharp, the most cash strapped of the once-mighty giant manufacturers, looks increasingly likely to end up mostly a parts supplier for Apple. With Sharp supplying iPhone and iPad panels, Sony making the camera sensors, and a small army of smaller manufacturers making many other components, the Japanese electronics industry as a whole seems fated to lack compelling products of its own, forcing it to occupy the less glamorous and less profitable role as the world's ultra high-tech parts maker.

Via Charlie Cheever

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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