Your biggest problem," warned Connie Barr's new boss when she joined Telephone Management Systems Inc. two years ago, "is going to be creating order out of chaos." Barr was the first marketing-communications manager for the Waltham, Mass. -- based company, which has more than 100 employees. Her job was to find a systematic way to pump out everything from product bulletins to newsletters to user manuals for customers who bought TMS's computerized call accounting systems for tracking telephone usage. The first two manuals Barr worked on took too long to print and cost too much. Then she found a way to do pasteup and typesetting in-house. That gave her better control, produced thoroughly professional-looking materials, and, by her most conservative estimate, let her turn out an average manual in about 25% of the time, at about 75% of the cost, than she could formerly. Barr's solution? She bought a typewriter.
She did not, however, buy that familiar office workhorse, the IBM Selectric. The three machines she eventually acquired for her company belong to a new breed that emerged in 1978 when Olivetti, IBM, and Exxon Enterprises, a division of oil giant Exxon Corp., announced that the typewriter was no longer just a workaday machine. Now, they said, it was electronic and ready to take its place in the office of the future.
What is the difference? The electric -- or, more accurately, electromechanical -- typewriters can do little more than transfer type to paper. The electronic typewriters are "intelligent." They have, in effect, little computers inside and can remember anywhere frorn eight characters to abont 10 pages. Even the lowest priced of these smart typewriters can automatically correct, center, and align numbers at the decimal point. At the high end, they can perform many of the text-editing functions of a word processing system. They range in price from a low of $895 to more than $5,000. Because electronic typewriters can do more than the electric typewriter but cost less than a word processor, many view them as the ideal bridge between the mechanical and electronic eras.
"At first the electronic typewriters were slightly expensive toys for people who wanted to have the newest gadgets lying around the office," says John Derrick, editor and publisher of What to Buy for Business, a monthly report on business equipment and services. But by 1981 those gadgets accounted for 20% of all heavyduty typewriters delivered, a share that could climb to 40% by the end of 1982, according to Clifford Lindsey, a vice-president and director of word processing industry services at Dataquest, a Cupertino, Calif.-based market research company The electronics sold today provide many more features for a lot less money than they did four years ago. And there are many more brands to choose from -- 17 manufacturers are hawking more than 60 models at latest count, and Lindsey expects to see 24 companies in the field by early 1983.
Clearly, buying a typewriter is no longer simple. Cone are the days when your toughest decision was choosing between a sable brown or a marlin blue Selectric. Add to the pot the lowering of prices in word processors and the proliferation of microcomputers with word processing software and you might well ask whether it is still worth buying a typewriter at all.
The answer for most offices is yes. And the typewriter you buy will probably be electronic. In fact, you might not have much choice, according to most analysts Electric typewriters could soon become as rare as Model T's, simply because electronics have become so much easier and cheaper to build.
The electronic typewriter looks pretty much like the electric on the outside. That, in fact, is one of its big selling points. Inside they are about as alike as watermelon and rutabaga. The electric not only has a motor, but it is stuffed with parts -- about 2200 in a Selectric. When you strike a key the motor helps move all the gears, levers, cogs, and pulleys needed to make a letter appear on paper.
The inside of the electronic, however, is almost bare; the machine contains 85% to 90% fewer parts. Electronic typewriters are controlled by tiny microchips mounted on a few circuit boards. Hitting a key sends instructions to a chip, which in turn instructs the print mechanism. These chips not only tell the machine what to do, but are programmed to remember certain functions. With fewer moving parts, the electronics are easier to maintain and lighter in weight than the electric.
Most electronics are also much quieter than electrics. With a couple of exceptions, they don't use the Selectric's familiar single-element printing mechanism -- known by those in typewriter circles as the golfball (a term also used to describe the Selectric itself). Instead they use the much quieter daisy wheel; the characters are on the ends of long stalks arranged around a disk that rotates as you type.
If you are told that electronic typewriters can increase productivity, you are not being sold a bill of goods. Most of their features are designed to simplify or eliminate repetitive -- and therefore time-consuming -- typing chores
Ruby Ferguson bought an electronic typewriter more than a year ago because a persistent salesperson assured her it would speed her work in the Wellesley, Mass., food brokerage company she owned at that time with her husband. She had some trouble getting used to it, but now, she says, "I wouldn't want anything else." Her Olivetti 231, with volatile memory, cost John F. Ferguson & Co about $2,600. As with all electronics, it has a correcting memory. At the touch of one key, the printing mechanism zips back and lifts off mistakes.
The machine also has an automatic carrier return, which eliminates having to hit a return key, automatic underlining, centering, and decimal-point alignment. Ferguson particularly likes the feature that helps in the typing of tables, since she frequently creates charts with 8 or 10 columns She just types in the longest entry in each column, and the machine automatically calculates the column width, leaving the right amount of space between the columns and margins.
Boldface printing, a multilingual keyboard, superscript and subscript functions, and the typewriter's ability to draw both vertical and horizontal lines for boxing information make the documents Ferguson sends to customers and distributors more impressive. Like many mid-to-upper-range models, the machine also justifies the right margin -- that is, it makes the right-hand edge look even, as it does on this page. Not too long ago, that was possible only in typesetting. Ferguson also owns about 10 daisy wheels, so she can use different type styles for different kinds of presentations.
But the heart of any electronic typewriter is its memory. Ferguson's machine has 830 characters' worth of phrase and format storage and about 16,000 characters (16k) of working memory.
With the phrase storage she can file frequently used words and phrases, such as the date or the company's name and address. She hits a key and the machine spits out the stored item at 20 characters per second. She can also stop at any point in a stored letter and insert variable information, such as prices or customers' names.
The format storage lets her put tab and margin settings in the memory and call them up as needed. That makes it easier to fill in preprinted forms, such as sales confirmations and complaints With the working memory, Ferguson can edit up to 10 pages, making it simple for her to store a letter and call it up later for revisions. A one-line, 20-character display lets her check what she has written or edited before printing it out.
Ferguson first bought a less sophisticated machine than the one she has now. When a new model came out offering more features, she traded in the old one. Some manufacturers, however, offer typewriters that can be upgraded in the field Designed as modules, they can be quickly converted to the next typewriter in the manufacturer's line with the simple addition of a circuit board. Electronic typewriters can also be upgraded with various add-ons, greatly increasing their versatility.
Ferguson's typewriter isn't linked to any other electronic devices, but it could be. Nearly half the machines on the market, hers among them, have what is known as communications capability, which allows one machine to "talk" to another, usually over phone lines; most future electronic typewriters will have this potential.
Linking a typewriter with other electronic devices greatly expands its usefulness. A typewriter that can connect with n computer, for example, is not only a typewriter, but also a terminal for sending and receiving data and a letter-quality printer that is less expensive, but slower, than most comparable printers that only print. If you do buy a typewriter intending to connect it to other machines, be prepared to pay $400 to $1,000 for the extra equipment. And make sure the typewriter has a communications option and that the two systems can be made compatible.
The electronic typewriter's increasing ability to interact with other electronic machines makes many analysts scoff at the idea of anyone buying a new Selectric or other electric typewriter. This capability is "what prevents the electronic typewriter from becoming antiquated," says Sharon Olsen, an assistant editor at Datapro Research Corp., a research and consulting company based in Delran, N.J. "There's nothing you can do with an electric typewriter except throw it out -- or give it to someone who doesn't have anything that's automated yet."
"Where the price of the electronic typewriter is the same as, or close to, the price of an electric typewriter, then clearly the electronic typewriter is the better buy," says Amy Wohl, president of Advanced Office Concepts Corp., a consulting firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
In response to the electronic competition, IBM recently lowered the prices on the Selectric IIs and IIIs, but some low-end electronics still cost no more than the $895-model Selectric III. If price is the only consideration, however, there are some hidden costs associated with electronics, points out Derrick, of What to Buy for Business. The golfball will last the life of the electric machine, but daisy wheels, as a rule, have to be replaced often, at about $16 to $24 a throw. Then there are ribbons, which can cost three times as much as those for electric typewriters "There's no point saving a few hundred dollars for the machine," Derrick says, "if at the same time you're going to have to pay several hundred dollars more for supplies and get fleeced that way." But "all in all," he concludes, "the electronics now offer a better bet."
Besides, most analysts think you're not going to have the golfball to kick around much longer. The Selectric is still the bestselling typewriter, says Dataquest's Lindsey, but he adds, "I think competition will force their hand They'll have to discontinue the Selectric by 1983." As soon as IBM changes, he adds, "there won't be any more electromechanicals on the market."
The electronic typewriters discussed so far lack two features that are standard on word processors -- an external memory source, usually a disk drive with removable disks, and a screen that displays up to a page of text. That is why "electronic typewriters aren't very good word processors," says Wohl, of Advanced Office Concepts Corp. "They're much too limited."
It is true that a typewriter for less than $3,000 is no match for even a low-end word processor. To begin with, the word processor's external memories allow it a much greater capacity. For example, an IBM Displaywriter -- a stand-alone system that provides each user with a keyboard, screen, and sometimes a printer -- has unlimited storage on disks, while most electronic typewriters with internal memories have at most about 16k characters. Because of its memory and the greater software capabilities, the word processor can edit much more material -- and do it quicker and more efficiently. Word processors also permit such functions as the processing of lists, where a list of names is merged with a form letter. It is also handy for processing records. You could, for instance, put 250 resumes on file, if you then want to find all candidates with physics degrees from Harvard who played rugby, you simply ask the machine to search them out. It will also do such tasks as a global search/ replace, where the system will change, for example, each occurrence of Smith to Smyth, at the touch of a key.
With the word processor, you can store a document, call it up six months later, make a few revisions, and print it out again. You can't do this with an unembellished electronic typewriter First, you have only limited storage space. If you want to work on something new, you need to get rid of the old. Second, the typewriter's internal memory is, for the most part, dependent on a power source. If the cleaning crew knocks the plug out of the socket, you will lose everything you have stored. Most electronics now come with some sort of battery backup, which saves material for a period ranging from 30 minutes to more than a year. But the batteries ofter protect only part of the memory
When an electrical storm interruptecl the power at Ferguson & Co. one day, Ruby Ferguson had to retype everything she had saved. However, Ferguson has benefited from what could be called the Apple syndrome. In the early days of the Apple computer, hobbyists, discovering that their trusty computers couldn't perform a much-desired function, would invent an add-on to give the micro that capability. Then they would carve out a market for their new product. The same thing is happening with electronic typewriters. In Ferguson's case, someone invented a wafer that allows you to dump the contents of the Olivetti's memory on magnetic tape and call it up when needed Ferguson bought the device for $800 and now has all her documents stored And many manufacturers either already offer or will soon offer optional disk drives for their machines, which will add about $900 to the price of the typewriter.
Nearly half of the manufacturers now sell models that come with a dual disk drive. These machines cost $5,000 to $6,000 but will perform many of the functions of a word processor After nine months with two machines that had only internal memory, Connie Barr bought a typewriter with external drives. She also bought software that allows her to handle mailings and maintain lists on the typewriter. She needed the disk drives, she says, only to store the heavy volume of written materials that TMS was producing. Now she can update product bulletins, for example, without having to retype the entire document.
Barr didn't buy a word processor, because, she says, she couldn't find a system that offered printing quality as good as she had seen on the electronic typewriter. Besides, she says, "I used to work on a lot of word processors, and I had real problems with staring at screens all day."
The lack of screens on typewriters makes it difficult, for most people, to put together even 10-page documents with a lot of revisions, says David Terrie, of International Data Corp., a market-research company based in Framingham, Mass. "Moving a paragraph in your mind versus seeing it on the screen makes a limit as to what can be done."
But the Apple syndrome has solved that problem, too. A small company, Systel Computers lnc. (see box, page 70), came up with a way to turn a typewriter into a full-fledged word processor. The Systel consists of a single disk drive and screen in one unit, plus word processing software The unit now interfaces with the typewriters of nine manufacturers. Systel Computers is scheduled to introduce a communications option in October,, which will allow typewriters in different offices to talk to one another. The Systel unit can easily be moved from typewriter to typewriter as needed. And other companies are coming up with their own versions of this system -- one is slated to sell for almost half the price of the Systel, which lists for around $3,450.
"There's hardly any difference between the high-end electronic typewriter and the low-end word processors, except for the boxes they come in," says Dataquest's Lindsey. "The software would be about the same. The high-end electronic typewriter would sell for about $5,000, and the low-end word processor would sell for $5,000 to $6,000." The wave of the future, he adds, might be the machine AdlerRoyal Business Machines Inc is introducing this month. Its typewriter has a detachable keyboard. Soon the company will introduce a half-page screen, and an optional connecting disk drive will lie available in early 1983. "What are you going to call it then?" asks Lindsey "It's not an electronic typewriter Or is it?"
If you choose to go the electronic typewriter route, you need to consider cost and function. The key to typewriter cost is memory. The more memory, the higher the price tag. Deciding what typewriter to buy for less than $3,000 is relatively straightforward. The market for these typewriters, says Shirley Unley, an analyst at Datapro, is offices that regularly put out five or six letters a day, maybe a half-dozen memos, and documents that range from 5 to 10 pages.
Most typewriters at the lowest end--those that range in price from around $900 to about $1,200 -- are limited to a correcting memory and a few additional features. Most likely you would buy one as little more than a one-for-one replacement for a Selectric. The next class of typewriters (from roughly $1,200 to $2,000) has additional features, plus format and phrase storage. If you send out the same short letter to a number of people, do multipart forms, or have a lot of external correspondence, this could prove your best bet. If you frequently send long letters back for retyping or regularly revise reports, the upper-level machines (from $2,300 to $5,000) with all the features found on Ruby Ferguson's typewriter, 5 to 10 pages of storage, and displays would probably be the way to go.
If you have to get out more than 20 or 25 copies of the same letter in a day, says Unley, you probably want, simply for the sake of speed, either a word processor or an additional disk drive for your typewriter.
When shopping for typewriters, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. Because different manufacturers' machines have different features, make sure the typewriter has the one function that may be vital to you. If you do many charts and tables, for instance, you will want to make sure the machine can do column layouts. If you are buying a machine because you want to send out a professional-looking product description, you may want right-margin justification.
If you are buying the typewriter mainly as a low-cost printer for your microcomputer, be sure you can link the two machines. Generally, says publisher Derrick, the second-generation machines -- Canon, Sharp, Silver-Reed, and Xerox, among others -- particularly those at the lowest end, "have more features for the money, are usually more pleasant to use, and give better type quality than the first-generation machines."
Most first-time buyers, say the experts, tend to pay for more than they need. "What you should do is determine the value to you of a particular function or feature," says Robert Colten, a consultant to Strategic Inc., a market-research and consulting company based in San Jose, Calif.
To some extent, it's no different from buying a car. If you're only driving in the city, say, you wouldn't have any use for cruise control."
But if you are buying a typewriter at this level, why not take the plunge and go for a word processor? Cost is one reason. Although the price gap is narrowing, the electronic is still about half the price of any word processor, and provides a number of word processing features. The socalled writer systems -- stand-alone word processors first introduced by IBM about two years ago -- cost anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000 when you include everything you need.
Convenience is another consideration. On some word processors, you can't type directly from the keyboard to the printer. You need to go through a file first. Besides, small items, such as envelopes, labels, and file-folder tabs, are easier to process on a typewriter than they are on a word processor printer.
And some companies find the electronic typewriter a good introduction to the computer world for those still suffering from computer phobia. Many people feel as Frances Johnson, a Modesto, Calif., secretary, did when her boss introduced a computer. She was moved to write "Lament of the Dinosaurus Humanicus Secretarius. Some excerpts:
Whatinheck's a global search
When do I need a variable string
Why, when I want corrections,
Does it lose the whole damn thing?
The silly little symbols
Confuse my human mind
Just access on and logging off
Can put me in a bind.
[They said] I'd be an expert. . .
But I got news for them:
Typing on that evil machine
Ain't the same as my IBM.
The electronic typewriter at least looks not very different from the old IBM. And once typists become familiar with its functions, they are often ready to move forward. "So often, the operators I speak with are very happy with their typewriters," says Datapro's Olsen, "but it makes them want more once they start using it. They are not afraid anymore of the technology." That is why it's probably a good idea to take on any shopping expeditions those who will use the machine most.
Although the new electronics may look familiar, learning how to use them is, in fact, a whole new ball game. And if those who operate the machines don't learn what they can do with them, you can't expect to realize any benefits from your investment.
"A day of play," says Datapro's Olsen, is recommended for anyone using an electronic for the first time. "The biggest complaint operators have," she says, "is the boss expects them to be immediately 50% more productive the minute that thing is plugged into the wall. They can't do it, because they don't know how to use the system, and the pressure makes it even more difficult."
The negotiations involved in actually buying the typewriter can be an art form. "When you decide to buy a typewriter and pick up your phone to call a dealer, you will be entering into a different world -- a torrid, hectic, sometimes hysterical world where seemingly pleasant young men in suits of varying hue will 'just drop by to see if you have made your decision yet' and call you and call you until they have sold you their machine or you tell them to get on their bike," says Derrick. He recommends choosing two or three models that appeal to you, then letting your fingers do the walking to get the best price. "Only a mug pays list price for a typewriter," he adds. Consultant Wohl has seen discounts as high as 35%. The exception is IBM, which sells through its direct sales force and through its own stores. Generally, IBM does not discount unless you buy in volume.
Most manufacturers provide a 90-day parts-and-labor guarantee with the typewriters they sell. Most people claim the machines are more reliable than electrics. When something does go wrong, however, it can be expensive. Sometimes an entire circuit board has to lie replaced, and this can cost anywhere from $400 to about $500. At times, the problem is no more than a 45 cents chip, but if dealers can't get the part, they will go back to the manufacturer for an entire board.
Because of potential expense, service contracts differ on these machines from those for electrics. Electronics have no parts that need regular lubrication or cleaning, so instead of paying for service per call, most buyers should take out a maintenance contract. This usually covers parts and labor in case of any type of breakdown, including major board failure. Derrick recommends getting a written guarantee that your dealer will get to you within 24 hours of your call and, if the machine is persistently faulty, the dealer will replace it, either temporarily or permanently
Twenty years from now, deciding what kind of typewriter to buy may be a dead issue. By the next decade, we will have affordable optical-character recognition, predicts Strategic Inc.'s Colten. And eventually, you will talk at a screen, the information will appear, and you will be able to manipulate it any way you want Documents will be stored electronically, and you will just have to move things around. "At that point," he says, "you'll have different kinds of problems."
But the typewriter qua typewriter will spit out a few more phrases before it tumbles into history's trash bin. Some offices will keep one handy only for addressing the occasional envelope. Others will buy a low-end model now and convert it to a printer later. And some people, like Connie Barr, will have typewriters do the work of word-processing and typesetting systems. "I think what we'll see in the electronic typewriter," says Dataquest's Lindsey," is only going to be limited by the human imagination."