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Sinclair's Spectrum

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Last month we looked at Colossus the first electronic digital computer, fast forward to July 1961 and Sir Clive Sinclair (born July 1940) launched Sinclair Radionics. This British company produced a number of miniature transistor radio kits, digital calculators, digital watches before venturing into the computer market.

In late 1962 Sinclair Radionics advertised its Micro-amplifier kit, this was followed by the Sinclair Slimline micro radio, the smallest radio on the market at 70 x 41 x 16 mm, they were sold by mail order to hobbyists, generally as kits.

Sinclair stunned the world in 1972 when he launched the Executive, his first electronic calculator, which was smaller and thinner than any other on the market. The Executive used one of the standard calculator chips of the time, this normally needed AA size batteries or larger to be used to give a useful battery life; Sinclair reduced the power consumption by providing the chip with pulses of current instead, this allowed the calculator to get around 20 hours operation from 3 small mercury button cells!

In 1975 Sinclair introduced the Black Watch, an LED digital watch at £17.95 in kit form and £24.95 ready-built, it suffered from technical flaws which made it unreliable and Radionics made its first loss in the 1974/75 financial year. The company would have gone bankrupt, but the British Government, through the National Enterprise Board, stepped in to support it. A portable TV project was launched in 1977 as the Microvision TV1A and MON1A at £99.95 but sales were poor and resulted in a £480,000 loss for Sinclair. 

In July 1977, Sinclair Instrument Ltd was renamed Science of Cambridge Ltd. which in 1978 launched the MK14 microcomputer kit; this was based on a National Semiconductor SC/MP microprocessor and parts from a Sinclair calculator, this had an 8 digit LED display and a calculator type keyboard. Also in 1977 the Sinclair Wristwatch Calculator was launched, an early example of  'wearable tech'!

In 1980, a new microcomputer based on the Zilog Z80 microprocessor was launched, known as the ZX80 it was sold as both a kit and ready-built at £99.95 - this made it the cheapest personal computer for sale in the UK. It relied on connection to a TV for the display and a cassette recorder for storage! A year later the Sinclair ZX81 was launched. 

In 1982 the ZX Spectrum was released, later becoming Britain's best selling computer, competing aggressively against Commodore and Amstrad. Timex Corporation obtained a license to manufacture and market Sinclair's computers in the USA under its own name. In April the ZX Spectrum was launched and in July 1982 Timex launched the TS 1000 (a version of the ZX81) .

In September 1982 the Sinclair TV80 pocket television was launched, but was a commercial failure.

The Sinclair QL was announced in January 1984, shortly before the Apple Macintosh went on sale, but it suffered from several design flaws, and never acheived Sinclair's expected sales. Also in 1984 Sinclair finally launched a flat screen TV which was moderately successful.

Sinclair's C5 electric tricycle, launched in 1985 was a very environmentally friendly electric vehicle. However, it was discontinued despite some 17,000 units sold, which compares well with many later electric vehicles. 

1989 saw Sinclair produce a digital mobile phone, however this needed to be near a transmitter to make outgoing calls, this did not provide the coverage that the later GSM system acheived. 

Sinclair today still produces new innovations in folding 'city' bicycles and other electric bicycles 


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