T H E S E C R E T T H A T W A S|
S P E C T R U M +
A SUE DENHAM EXCLUSIVE!
Just days after the launch, Sinclair Research's MD Nigel Searle explains the thinking that's gone into the ZX Spectrum+.
Pulling the wool over the
computing industry's eyes isn't
the easiest of tasks, but Sinclair
Research seems to have
managed just that over the past
four months. Indeed, they may
have given many magazine
editors a justifiable opportunity
to dredge up that old chestnut,
'hold the front page!'.|
So, how did the news of the new machine remain so secret? "Well, for a start, it's amazing that it did stay so quiet for so long. A couple of weeks before the Spectrum+ was announced, one of our staff - I won't name names as I wouldn't want to embarrass him - left a whole load of promotional material in the back of a taxi.
"Another lucky break was the codename we chose for the Spectrum+ project. The chief designer of the machine was a Ford Thunderbird fanatic - so the in-house codename was 'TB'. Of course, if you were discussing the project and an outsider started listening in, it was easy enough to turn the conversation into one on TV!"
Moving on to the initial plans for the Spectrum+, how would you counter criticisms that it's not the upgrade everyone was hoping for? "We first started talking about the Spectrum+ back in June, although when the original Spectrum was launched we were very careful not to date its name - even though its in- house working title was the ZX82. The Spectrum is strong enough in the games market, but we were keen to upgrade it for 'adult' users - and that meant adding a proper keyboard.
"As for including the two interface devices and possibly a Microdrive into the design - yes, it's something we thought of. The reason we didn't do it was twofold - to begin with, our research showed us that sales of Interfaces 1 and 2 were comparatively small and it didn't seem commercial sense to offer a more expensive machine that only 25 per cent
of users wanted. Our company
also has to consider the price
war that'll happen - just as it
did in the States - and it's
important we can match the
competitiveness of other home
micros in the market.|
"It's also a matter of production. At the moment, we're producing something like 200,000 Spectrum boards a month - but it's at a relatively late stage in development that we actually have to say whether it will turn out as a Spectrum+. As far as we can tell at the moment, the Spectrum+ seems to be outselling the Spectrum about two to one ... but it's early days yet.
"Obviously, once we've turned production purely to the Spectrum+ - or rather, I should add, if we turn production solely in that direction - we will have the opportunity to make alterations to the basic design and incorporate other features, such as a built-in Microdrive, Interface 1 and joystick port."
Steering the subject back to the gaffe about the Spectrum+ production, how long can we expect to see the Spectrum gracing the high street shelves, and what, pray, has happened to the 16K Spectrum? "Let me first say that there are no definite plans to stop manufacturing Spectrums. I foresee the Spectrum being in the market just as long as software houses keep writing good software for it. As far as the 16K version is concerned, it's still available from us - but the retailers don't want to distribute it through the shops. Computer users in this country want the extra 32K memory, especially as most of the software is written for the 48K machine. Of course, overseas sales are a different matter entirely - for example, we had an order from France the other day for 19,000 ZX81s; I couldn't sell 19 in the UK!"
What's the industry reaction been to the Spectrum+? "I can't imagine that the add-on
keyboard manufacturers are
very happy. I doubt the
Spectrum+ will affect their
sales in the near future - there
are too many Spectrums
around - but long-term sales
must look pretty bleak. One
thing we're thinking of doing is
to allow hardware
manufacturers to buy empty
Spectrum+ cases from us and
then offer an upgrading service
for Spectrum users.|
"As you know, our company has been giving software away with our computers. That idea came from Clive who, on hearing any notion that's half- sensible, has a knack of coming up with a way of making it work, however outrageous the original suggestion. I thought we'd have a lot of people after our blood, especially chain stores like WH Smiths who've shelves full of the same product for sale that we're giving away. However, everyone was very reasonable - I suppose no-one loses out."
And what of the future? "We're now in a position to offer two competitive machines in the home market and, of course, the QL in the business market. In the future, we'll be using the 'ZX' as the logo for our home computers and 'QL' for ... err, machines other than home computers." On a final note, what would the managing director of Sinclair Research like for a Christmas present? "What I'd really like to have is the name of the person who sabotaged my chair at the QL launch. Sitting in my cushioned chair, waiting for Clive to finish his introduction so that I could kick off the proceedings, I became aware that the chair was absolutely soaked. Someone had filled the cushioning with a few gallons of water so that it looked perfectly alright before you sat in it - but as soon as you did ... well, need I say more? When I stood up to make my speech, I had rivers of water pouring down my legs. Just give me his name, that's all, and I'll be a happy man over Christmas."