I remember how I used to always look forward to going to the local Toys R Us store when I was a child. I was therefore suprised, and disappointed, to read the news that Toys R Us is filing for bankruptcy earlier this week. I imagine that many adults who relied on the retailer for their childhood toys felt the same way.
Most of the stories covering the bankruptcy have focused on Toys R Us’ inability to pay off its debts as the source of the bankruptcy. While that is indeed the final manisfestation of the problem which led to the company’s bankruptcy filing, this final manifestation of the problem is actually the result of the company’s profits not being large enough to cover its debts.
And the shortfall in profit is the result of the primarily offline toy retailer losing sales to two alternatives. The first is online toy retailers and the second is smartphone and tablet apps that offer children an alternative source of entertainment to toys. These are the core problems, and both of these core problems are examples of technological progress.
As tough as it is to see Toys R Us go, the fact that technology is responsible both for the company’s departure and as an alternative to the products it sold, is a small consolation.
Back when I was in Elementary, Middle, and High school, we went to the school’s computer lab whenever we had something to do on a computer. In the 13 years since I exited the K through 12 school system, things have changed. Today, many schools give their students laptops which they carry from class to class and to their homes.
According to this New York Times article, Google has emerged as the clear leader in serving this market. The reason for Google’s success is the company’s strategy of providing low cost Chromebook laptops manufactured by third parties which run Google’s Chrome operating system and serve up Google’s cloud-based app ecosystem. This lets students access their apps from any laptop while promoting in-app collaboration with their classmates and teachers.
This has propelled the company ahead of Apple’s hardware-driven and Microsoft’s on-device software-driven approaches. Although Google was virtually non-existent in the market in 2012, it shipped nearly 8 million devices in 2016. Apple and Microsoft have remained flat at between 2 and 3 million annual device shipments from 2012 to 2016.
I would always look forward to going to the computer lab when I was a kid. Many of today’s students have access to the same learning opportunities made possible by computers whenever and wherever they want. It’s a great time to be a kid.