Competition in the retail market is increasing. We assess the present situation on availability of the main machines and software support.
THE REDUCTION in the Spectrum price has thrown the home computer market into turmoil. Just as some manufacturers were beginning to pose a threat to Sinclair Research's dominance in Britain the company has taken steps to confirm its position.
With most companies switching their marketing strategies from mail order to retail the battle will now be fought in the high streets.
Sinclair Research was one of the first companies to do so. It started to sell the ZX-81 in Smiths more than a year ago and now the machine is also being sold in Boots, Currys, Dixons and Debenhams. Sinclair announced at the launch of the Spectrum that sales would be by mail order only but it was not long before the machine found its way into the shops.
Other computer manufacturers followed the Sinclair lead. Texas Instruments started to sell the TI 99/4A in specialist computer and video shops but soon it, too, had made the move into Boots and other popular chain stores.
The machine did not do as well as the Sinclair computers and one reason is that it entered the market very quietly. Since then, with advertising in national newspapers and on television, together with a reduction in the price to £149.95, it is giving machines like the Dragon 32 and the Oric a run for their money. It is now easily obtainable but software is limited.
Boots is also responsible for introducing the Vic-20 into the high street. The Vic is an American machine manufactured by Commodore Computers, the company which also produces the Pet series. The machine was an immediate success in the States and its impact on the British public has been as great.
The Vic-20 is still a good seller at £129.95 with standard memory of 5K and some worthwhile software. Commodore hopes that its new machine, the Commodore 64, will do even better.
The entrance of the Dragon 32 into the high-street market was preceded by a fanfare concerning its capabilities. The machine sold well for two months but it was not until Christmas that sales took off in the festive boom.
After a slow start software houses are taking more interest in the machine and the public is just beginning to realise what it can do.
The standard 32K Dragon costs £198.95. That is much more expensive than the 48K Spectrum, although the Dragon has a more extensive version of Basic and better graphics facilities. There are supplies in the shops but dealers are experiencing some difficulties in getting machines.
The Atari computers, the 400 and 800, have not yet been introduced into the W H Smith or Boots chain stores but is sold in Currys and Dixons. They have been regarded as games machines but now Atari has introduced a series of programs for the business user.
Atari is an American company and it has the biggest amount of software for one machine on the market. As a result, it is also the loudest protester against software piracy. It has already proved that it has the resources to tackle that industry within the industry.
The company seems to have a monopoly on ideas at the moment, as many of the programs available for home computers in Britain are spin-offs of Atari games.
The Atari 400 has fallen in price recently. It now costs £159 and its upgraded counterpart, the 800, has 48K of memory to replace the original 16K specification. The company hopes that will make the machines more competitive.
Plenty of stocks are available with no shortage of software.
|'Dragon, Vic-20 and Sinclair are most in evidence with the best back-up'|
The Oric-1 is produced by Oric International Products. It was introduced to the large electrical stores, such as Micro C, at the beginning of April and is now starting to appear in W H Smith and Boots. The machine was launched originally through mail order outlets and was described as a serious contender to the Sinclair Spectrum.
Oric says that the software is available for the machine but one month after the 48K version was introduced to the shops, stores such as Currys were not able to support it with programs.
The 16K Oric costs £99.95 and the 48K £169.95. The computer is being backed with some software, which includes a database, an adventure called Zodiac, and a cassette which contains several games.
The Spectrum still seems to be the best buy in the high street and the ZX-81 is still selling in large quantities. There is also no difficulty in obtaining software. When the machine was launched in Smiths there was already a full list of titles. Now Smiths has several thousand cassette titles on its books.
Of all the computers available in stores, the Dragon, Vic-20 and Sinclair computers are most in evidence with the best back-up.