Casio reinventing itself with every change

Tadao Casio founded Casio in 1946, soon after World War II ended. At the beginning the business of the company centered around machines that emitted plane tickets. During the early years they also had to repair some of the first mechanical calculators with electronic components that allied forces installed in the airports of Tokyo and Yokohama. With the first reaped benefits and the experience gained, Mr. Casio decided that he and his brothers could produce better calculators.

Casio headquarters in Shibuya
Entrance to the main headquarters of Casio in Shibuya.

After several years of hard work, in 1954, Casio launched to the market the first Japanese electromechanical calculator competing directly with the American company Burroughs. The interesting thing is that the new Casio calculator introduced the numeric keypad layout of 10 keys, something that now is evident but at that time was a great innovation. Three years after, Casio commercialized the first compact electronic calculator in history.

Casio first compact electronic calculator
The first compact 100% electronic calculator in history.

Akihabara Casio
Casio shop in Akihabara

Casio didn’t stop growing during the 60’s, improving its calculators making them smaller and cheaper. Casio lead the pocket calculator revolution and along the way they erased several computing giants like Monroe, Victor, Burroughs, Remington Rand, Olivetti and Facit. Sharp and Texas Instruments rose to be the biggest competitors in the calculator sector; then Casio decided to innovate and create new markets once again as they had done previously with calculators. In 1969 they created the first quartz watch with LCD screen, they called it Casiotron. During the following two decades Casio watches became the symbol of the technological power of Japan around the world. More than 1,500 clock and watch companies in Switzerland went bankrupt from 1970 until 1988.

Casio watch

During the 80’s and beginning of the 90’s, Casio went through hard times because they didn’t find their place in the Personal Computer revolution. However, in 1995 they brought another big innovation once again, they released to the market the first digital camera with TFT LCD screen that allowed users to view photos before transferring them to their computers. Although it might seem rare nowadays, the first digital cameras didn’t have screens to browse the photos taken! In fact, the technology behind all the TFT LCD screens of every digital camera in the world is patented by Casio.

At the beginning they had it quite easy, because the photography giants like Fujifilm, Canon or Nikon were resting on laurels. Casio was the first company to launch a 3 megapixel camera to the market and during many years they were on the front line of the digital photography industry, making its cameras smaller and thinner, making them accessible to everyone and breaking megapixel barriers.

Casio AU
A Casio cellphone from the beginning of last decade. Casio is one of the most important cellphone makers in Japan.

Casio is one of the companies in the world that contributed the most to the digital photography revolution of the last decade. At the beginning they didn’t have any experience creating cameras but after many years they are still one of the survivors in such a competitive industry.

During the last couple of years Canon, Olympus, Nikon and Pentax SLR camera prices have dropped spectacularly and now they are only a little bit more expensive than compact cameras. This movement of traditional camera companies has severely harmed companies producing compact digital cameras; having more megapixels is not important anymore. What users demand now is better optics that only SLR cameras can offer. One of the biggest victims has been Casio, that is once again in a delicate moment, the digital compact camera market is saturated and there is little margin for innovation; Casio will have to reinvent itself once again if they don’t want to disappear. What new surprises will Casio bring us in the coming years? Let’s hope they can adapt themselves to changing conditions so that we can wear G-Shock watches for a long time.

G-Shock building in Shibuya
G-Shock building in Shibuya

Article originally published in the Spanish newspaper El País.

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