The death of the typewriter? Don't write it off yet

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To misquote a famous line, the reports of the death of the typewriter are greatly exaggerated. Indian business conglomerate Godrej & Boyce announced last week that it was closing its last remaining typewriter factory, based in Mumbai, and claimed it was the last factory of its kind in the world. Turns out, it isn’t.

Godrej & Boyce – part of the Godrej Group, which operates in real estate, industrial engineering, furniture, food and security – says that, while typewriters became obsolete in the West years ago, the machines were still in use in thousands of Asian companies and households.

"Not many orders"
Until recently, that is, as computer keyboards have finally overtaken typewriters in these countries as well.
According to Godrej, the numbers say it all: in 1990 the company produced 50,000 typewriters, in 2010 only 800. “We’re not getting many orders these days,” a spokesperson for the company said with a hint of understatement.

But is Godrej & Boyce’s typewriter factory in Mumbai really the last one on the planet? Will typewriters join vinyl, tapes, and the fountain pen as museum artifacts? No, they won’t  - or at least, not in the foreseeable future. As it turns out, there are a few remaining facilities in the world where typewriters are still manufactured.

Ancient looking
US-based company Swintec says it is still operating a handful of factories in Indonesia, China and Japan.  One look at their website and you’ll see that the typewriter – or rather, their typewriter – is far from dead. In fact, the website looks like a wonderful stroll in the past with rather ancient looking, but very modern accessories and appliances such as a 1700-dollar Word Processor  and electronic and mechanical typewriters.

Actually, Swintec prides itself in producing typewriters that no computer can beat – for example the Clear Typewriter (pictured above) which is specifically aimed at prisons.

Personal computers (or smaller machines like smartphones or tablet computers) are deemed too risky for most prisons, as these may be used to smuggle contraband into the prison facility. The complicated structure of the machines apparently make it easy to hide stuff in them.

But hiding things is impossible in Swintec’s machines: “Our Clear Typewriters, with their transparent cabinet, enable easy searching for any misuse,” Swintec proudly claims on its company website.

Using a typewriter also prevents prisoners from secretly visiting websites that they are not supposed to.

So prisons and other security operations remain the only market for the old fashioned typewriter. But even that might change soon.

In the US, prisoners may be allowed to use email in the near future on special computers that do not allow access to the internet. “Email is more secure as we can translate it directly from a foreign language to English,” Washington State Prisons director Dan Pacholke told US radio network NPR in 2010. “You can read the handwriting (…) and you can’t use meth soaked paper. You can’t put powder in the envelope.”

So although the typewriter shouldn't be written off just yet, the end may be near after all.