Sharp’s founder, Tokuji Hayakawa, invented the Ever Sharp pencil, which used replaceable lead cores to stay sharp all the time. It went on to be a huge hit in the US and Europe. From here it was a short step to consumer electronics, which had yet to boom into a full blown industry.
Sharp began assembling and marketing Crystal Radio sets and researching TV technology in 1931. Before long it was selling the first TV sets in Japan, ready for the debut of television broadcasts.
Before solar panels became affordable enough to slap on your roof or trickle-charge the car battery, they were in calculators. But who put them there first? That’s right, Sharp did. In 1978 the Sharp EL-8028 put an end to fiddly batteries and revolutionised one of the most commonly-owned gadgets of all time.
We’re all used to firing up BBC iPlayer and downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but back in 1982 Sharp had a vision of computers as more than boring business machines. The company introduced the world’s first combination PC/TV set, which switched between analogue broadcasts and digital computing. It saved space, and meant the computer was used for more than just spreadsheets and solitaire.
Popular consensus is that the iMac was the first colourful computer, bringing an end to beige box-syndrome but while Apple’s achievement can’t be denied Sharp’s desktop computers were breaking cover in multiple hues, shunning beige and welcoming in red designs, in the early 80s, three years before Microsoft launched the first version of Windows.
Gadget fans might be going ga-ga for glasses-free 3D gaming from Nintendo, but Sharp first developed the technology in 2002, putting it inside a Japanese cell phone that showed glorious 3D images without any need for extra eyewear. At first it faltered because of a lack of content, but now games-makers are behind it, glasses-free 3D is here to stay.
The parallax barrier technology behind glasses-free 3D didn’t just make images pop from the screen, it also lead to the development of screens which show two images simultaneously.
It’s a technology that’s useful in confined spaces, where several people must share a screen. Most often, it’s found in the dashboards of luxury cars, where one screen shows the driver the satnav, while displaying movies or TV to passengers.
If you’ve ever given a presentation with a projector, you have Sharp to thank. The company invented LCD-powered projectors that could be moved between rooms. Cue much celebration, and an end to arguing over which meeting room to hold your corporate powwow in.
Sharp’s camcorders were legendary. In 1992 the company became the first to use a large LCD screen as a viewfinder in place of an eyepiece. The Sharp Viewcam line looked unique and functioned differently to rivals. For the first time, the camcorder could be held at arm’s length, letting the user keep an eye on events around them, rather than squinting down the barrel of a lens.
If it wasn’t for Sharp, you might have to. Sharp was the first company to mass produce microwaves, and the first to add a rotating turntable to make sure food cooked evenly. More recently, it’s the first company to bundle microwave, grill and steam cooking technology into one product.
Perhaps Sharp’s longest-lasting legacy is its development of the LCD screen. Since its development of Japan’s first TV technology in 1931, leading to the first mass produced TV sets in 1953, Sharp has lead the way in screen technology. Its latest Quattron technology uses four subpixels instead of the traditional three for a brighter, more colourful picture, especially when paired with 3D glasses.