Interview: Toshiba Talks About the Future of Notebooks

Interview: Toshiba Talks About the Future of Notebooks

by Perry Longinotti

Toshiba is one of the largest notebook manufacturers worldwide and consistently ranks among the top five laptop companies in almost every country where Toshiba notebooks are being sold. Bottom line, Toshiba is important to the world of laptops and the decisions this company makes have serious impact on the entire market.

Recently, we spoke with Todd Smith, Director of Product Marketing for Toshiba of Canada. Smith is responsible for developing a strategy to drive revenue and market share for Toshiba’s mobile computer products and was reponsible for the successful launch of Toshiba’s TERRE program (Toshiba Environmental Recycling and Recovery Effort), a proactive environmental program for safely recycling laptops.

What has Toshiba been doing and what are they planning next? Mr. Smith gave some interesting answers to our questions.

Two segments of the notebook market that seem to be generating a lot of interest right now are Gaming Notebooks and Ultra Mobile PCs. On the subject of Gaming Notebooks:

Andrew asks: How is the Satellite X205 doing for Toshiba and will they keep pushing into the gaming sector?

A: The Satellite X200 is carried by all the major retailers and is doing very well for Toshiba (the Satellite X205 is the US model number). Further details will be available in the months ahead but we will continue to improve and update our offerings for the gaming sector.

markheus asks: Where is Toshiba going as far as branding with its gaming machines? They’ve designed some very nice equipment but when you go to their website, its basically just another model number. They don’t really differentiate them from their business models. This, to me, would be better driver updating, gamer focused accessories and upgrades, and promotions.

A: The central focus for the Toshiba group, throughout history and moving forward, continues to be R&D and engineering to bring consumers the most innovative products possible.We are continuously pushing the boundaries of science and developing products that make a difference in the market. We do appreciate the value of branding and we will continue to build upon our communications with consumers, particularly gamers, to highlight our great innovations.

jessi3k3 asks: Why haven’t Toshiba prepared some sort of concierge service for their “Gaming” division like Dell has (XPS brand, excellent CS /w XPS, etc.)? How do they plan to improve their customer support for these types of notebooks?

A: That’s a good question.We are always looking to improve our customer service and if we find there to be a growing need for a concierge service, or similar offerings, we will definitely consider providing it.

Quite a few of our forum members asked about X205 customization at the time of purchase. In particular, Jstn7477 who is expecting his X205 SLI to arrive any day now, says that he would have ordered an even faster processor and 4 GB of 800 Mhz RAM if they were available.

A: The option of customization at time of purchase is something we have been discussing and is a feature we provide in the future.

If not available as BTO options, any plans to offer official high performance upgrades? Or, at a minimum a list of supported processors and RAM that ned users could reference before embarking on upgrades?

A: The simple answer is that because of the way our systems are built, we do not support or recommend any types of upgrades other than the standard memory upgrade.

Are there any plans to offer performance tunes/optimized install images with the gaming notebooks? This would exclude any trial-ware, updated bios and drivers that can play the latest games out of the box, and perhaps a full version of a game that demonstrates the notebook’s power.The majority of notebook reviews these days lament the out of box experience offered by most manufacturers – a new computer should never feel bloated, and removing trials is time consuming.

A: We currently do not have plans to offer performance tunes or optimized install images with gaming notebooks, but we will continue to consider gamers demands and this could change in the future. We appreciate your feedback regarding the out of box experience; however we have also heard from consumers that find value in the trials provided.

chosin asks: Will Toshiba ever offer overclocking options in the BIOS? Other vendors such as MSI offer overclocking in smaller form factors than Toshiba’s X205.

A: Upgrades of this kind are easily done with desktop computers, but are next to impossible with laptop computers due to their architecture, so we cannot offer these options.

On the subject of Ultra Mobile PCs:

Andrew asks: What are your thoughts on this new push for budget $300 / $400 laptops such as the Asus Eee PC and Everex Cloudbook, will Toshiba start competing here?

A: That’s a great question.We strive to be a leader in providing the latest and greatest technology. If we find the market to be moving towards this trend, then we will find a way to provide these laptops to our customers.

He also asks: What about the UMPC form factor, Toshiba was one of the first ever companies to produce laptops and then Tablet PCs, why didn’t they push the envelope here too?

A: We actually created a UMPC form factor as demonstrated at CES 2008 but no decisions have been made on when this will be available to the public. Stay tuned!

How do you feel when something like the MacBook Air gets immense media attention, even though there have been similar Toshiba Portegemodels on the market for years? Is not getting the word out and generating interest a failure of marketing?

A: Marketing is an area in which we are working to build upon in order to gain the recognition deserved for our significant innovations, like the Portege.

The Libretto U100was available in major retailers up until recently. Was this product a success for Toshiba in North America?

A: Yes the Libretto U100 was a success for Toshiba in North America, but sadly from a global perspective the demand wasn’t sufficient enough to continue the product.

Some general questions:

chelet asks: I’d like to know whether Toshiba plans to introduce what Sony calls “hybrid graphics” (or Alienware calls binaryGFX) into any of their notebooks — where you can switch between a discrete video card and onboard graphics depending on whether you want maximum graphics performance or longer battery life.

A: We do have plans to introduce hybrid graphics into our notebooks later this year – again, stay tuned!

The HD optical format war is over, when can we expect to see Blu Ray in Toshiba notebooks?

A: There are no plans for Toshiba to manufacture Blu-ray players or to incorporate Blu-ray drives in our notebooks.

We have seen demonstrations of Sony/Toshiba’s Cell processor integrated into notebook designs. When can we expect to see notebooks with this technology for sale?

A: Notebooks that include the Cell technology were announced at CES 2008 and we expect to have them in the marketplace this summer.

Where are Toshiba’s notebooks designed? How much of the lineup consists of ODM models?

A: Toshiba design and research and development facilities for our laptops are located in Japan.I’m sorry but we do not disclose ODM information.

Why not include a full year subscription to an Anti-Virus service instead of a 3-month trial?

A: The reason we provide a three month trial is that we find this gives customers the greatest possible flexibility.

There you have it. Some pretty staid answers to our questions. Toshiba is pretty conservative and it’s no surprise that they want to keep their cards close to their chest. As a company that caters to both business and consumers, you almost need to have a bipolar personality to manage both segments – messaging that works well in one segment flops in the other. Reading Todd Smith’s answers, more questions come to mind.

Toshiba’s stance on user-installable upgrades and hardware targeted at enthusiasts that like to get their hands dirty is disappointing. Frankly, no one wants to buy a $3,000.00 disposable. Considering the notebooks that Toshiba make are largely upgradable – why not design them to be easier to work on? Or why not offer a service where authorized Toshiba depots can install upgrades such as new MXM modules? Open sockets and upgrade options are nice even if they provide only an illusion of future proofing. If your products have servicable parts anyways, why not make that a selling point (similar to Dell)? Most people will never crack their notebook open to replace a CPU or MXM module but they will feel better knowing that they have the option to do so.

I think Toshiba decision makers are missing an opportunity to engage the community and create some buzz among the influencers (geeks like you and I) who follow their products. Grass roots marketing is working well for HP (Rahul Sood), Dell (IdeaStorm) and Lenovo (Design Matters) – all companies at the top or on the rise. We’re eager to see what Toshiba brings to the table in 2008.





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