Failure Technology

Sinclair ZX80, the first affordable home computer

The course of action:

Inventor Clive Sinclair set himself the goal of developing and bringing to market the first really affordable home computer: it was to be user-friendly, compact, and able to withstand coffee and beer! Sinclair developed the ZX80, a ‘mini-sized’ (20×20 cm) home computer with a multifunctional and waterproof keyboard. It was the first computer to sell for under 100 GBP, and promised to make home computing affordable for the mass market.

The result:

But the ZX80 also had its limitations – it had a ‘somber’ black and white screen and no sound. The keyboard was indeed multifunctional and waterproof but proved, when used intensively, to be very awkward. Each time a key was pressed the screen went blank – the processor was unable to handle keyboard input and the screen output signal simultaneously. In addition the ZX80 had very limited memory – just 1Kram.

Initially the ZX80 received very positive reviews in the trade press – a journalist writing for the authoritative Personal Computer World went as far as to say that it was actually very useful that the screen blanked with each key stroke since then you were sure you had hit the key just once! It was a short-lived love affair, and a couple of years later praise had turned to criticism: ‘With an awkward keyboard and a poor version of Basic, this machine will have put millions of people off ever buying another computer”.

In retrospect this criticism is too hard. However, the fact remains that in spite of Sinclair’s best intentions, the ZX80 had too many ‘teething’ problems to meet his ambition of a user-friendly computer for the masses. Sales of the ZX80 stagnated at around 50.000.

The lesson:

Clive Sinclair was quick to bring the ZX80’s successor to the market – the ZX81 – in which a number of ‘issues’ were addressed, including that of the ‘blanking’ screen. In addition the computer’s memory was expanded. Despite the fact that the ZX81 was still far from perfect, sales of the ZX81 were estimated to be over 1 million. And Sinclair – at the initiative of Margaret Thatcher – was knighted in 1983 and since then may call himself Sir Clive Sinclair.

Further:
Sources: Computermuseum, PlanetSinclair, Wikipedia.

Published by:
Editor IVBM

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