THE AQUARIUS is the first colour computer to cost less than £80.
The new machine from Mattel, manufacturer of the Intellivision video game system, is aimed at the small computer market which includes such machines as the ZX-81 and Spectrum. Mike Lunch, managing director of Mattel Electronics U.K., says:
"The U.K. has been chosen to spearhead our launch as it is the most sophisticated and fast-developing market. We estimate that by the end of 1983 almost two million households in the U.K. will have a home computer and that sales will be running at the rate of about 750,000 units. That means that the market must be worth more than £100 million annually."
The Aquarius does not match the specifications of the Spectrum in some respects. It has 4K of standard internal RAM which can be upgraded in four 16K units to 52K. The keyboard is similar to that of the Spectrum, although it uses firm plastic keys and not the rubbery ones used by Sinclair.
The central selling point made by Mattel about the machine is that it already has a good deal of software which can be run on it. The peripheral support, such as disc drives and printer, are ready and will be released later this year.
THE LAUNCH of the Micronet adaptor for the Spectrum was delayed once again before its final release in August because of an incompatibility with the new Sinclair Microdrive.
The device was originally to have been launched in May but that deadline could not be met. Since then various launch dates have been quoted, including June 1 and the end of July. Since its press launch potential customers have been put on a waiting list and order forms for the devices are now being despatched.
The incompatibility of the adaptor with the Microdrive was discovered quickly after the launch of the new Sinclair peripheral. Several thousand Micronet adaptors had their ROMs re-programmed so that the Spectrum would accept both devices at the same time.
The major problem was that the Spectrum works on the precedent of one device being the first, or more important, peripheral and that software would be needed to use both devices together.
David Babsky, editor of Micronet, says that both devices are now compatible. "I have tried both devices together and they work."
SINCLAIR RESEARCH has changed the Uncommitted Logic Array on the Spectrum to avoid tuning problems which had dogged some owners who were trying to use some Japanese television sets with their computers.
The problems included a flipping picture, no colour, and no picture. Japanese sets from Hitachi and Toshiba caused difficulties as some have not abided by standards set out by the rest of the industry.
It has been stressed that the changes in the ULA should cause no problems if old software is run on the new machines. It will mean that purchasers of Spectrums will have a wider range of television sets which will be compatible.
SALES OF the Spectrum have topped the half million mark, according to Sinclair Research.
The sales both by mail order and retail cover the period from April, 1982 to August, 1983. By comparison 400,000 ZX-81s were sold in a similar period between March, 1981 and July, 1982.
Nigel Searle, managing director of Sinclair Research and the Sinclair new products division, said that he was delighted with the sales figures and that Sinclair Research would continue to support the machine with new peripherals to keep Sinclair owners occupied. They include the ZX Interface 1 and Microdrive units, which were finally launched in August.
New peripherals to be launched later this year will include a joystick and a cartridge interface. They will put the Spectrum in line with machines such as the Atari and Vic-20 which both have cartridge facilities.
SINCLAIR RESEARCH has bought Milton Hall in Cambridge which it plans to convert into the headquarters of its new Metalab project.
The Metalab will be a £2 million facility for high technology research. Sir Clive Sinclair says:
"The spacious landscape of Milton Hall makes a superb environment for the research we will be doing."
The building has 16,000 sq. ft. of workspace for the Sinclair team of research scientists and will form part of Sinclair Research advanced products division.
SINCLAIR RESEARCH has decided to take a more positive role in the development of software. It is concentrating on the educational market first, where the recent deal with Macmillan, the publishers, is seen as an important move to raising the standard of educational software in this sector.
Alison Maguire, who is responsible for software development, said that in the past Sinclair had been reacting only to what was available from other suppliers.
"If something was not available, we did not try to make sure that something was written.
"We wish to act now more like a publisher," she says.
She adds that as an example the educational market is seen as an area into which Sinclair Research will be moving and it will need good software to help the machines realise their potential.
"People will be buying more and more educational software and it is important that it fulfils real educational purposes," she says.
Other areas of the market are also to be considered, such as games and business. Maguire says she is interested in talking to any software house about new projects.
FOLLOWING the rapid expansion in sales of inexpensive computers, the market has entered a new phase where more sophisticated machines, such as the Spectrum and BBC micro, are in great demand.
That is due largely to the inexpensive products of companies such as Sinclair Research and the prominent marketing of those products by, WH Smith, according to a report from Mintel Publications Ltd.
The report shows that in 1982 computer sales increased to 750,000 and this year Mintel predicts that they will reach the one-and-a-quarter million level. In 1983 the market value should be £200 million, plus a further £80 million for add-on peripherals such as disc drives, and software such as games cassettes.
The trend, according to Mintel, has now moved towards the purchasing of more expensive machines such as the Spectrum, BBC micro and Vic-20. At the same time there is a switch from mail order to shops which offer specialist advice on the machines they sell. Those shops include chain stores such as Laskys and Currys.
The 1983 estimates of retailers' share of trade in the computer market puts W H Smith in front with 18 percent. Tandy and Spectrum stores follow with 12 and eight percent respectively. Dixons and Boots are at the bottom of the table, apart from mail order and small outlets which have two percent of the market each.
Mintel predicts that there is still plenty of growth potential but that a shift will take place towards peripherals and software. In 1984 computer owners will be looking to expand their machines.
A GROUP of software houses has launched a new organisation to stabilise the computer market and keep the standards of software production and retail at the highest level possible.
The Guild of Software Houses has been set up by a number of large software companies, including Quicksilva, Bug-Byte, New Generation, Silversoft and Virgin Games.
The guild claims that a new customers' charter will ensure a commitment to maintain promised mail order delivery times, replace defective stock and deal promptly with complaints.
According to GOSH, not only individual customers will benefit from the new service. A dealer charter for the trade has been drawn up and a code of conduct for software houses in dealing with one another has been arranged.
Any software house found to be in breach of the contracts will be subject to guild disciplinary procedures. Membership of the guild is by annual subscription of £500 but only software houses able to satisfy the committee that they can maintain the guild pledges to dealers and customers will be elected.
The president of GOSH is Nick Alexander, who is also chairman of Virgin Games, and the vice-chairman is Rod Cousens of Quicksilva. All enquiries from software houses wishing to join the guild should be addressed to Mike Johnston, organiser of the ZX Microfairs, who is the secretary of GOSH.
AUTOMATA, the company which created Pimania, has launched another competition with Radio Victory of Southampton in which the questions are broadcast in the form of programs for the Spectrum.
The competition started on June 18 and has been broadcast at 1.30pm every Saturday on 95MHz VHF since that date.
Entrants must pick up the programs either directly from a radio or by using a tape recorder. The program consists of one screen of text with the Radio Victory logo and one line of a famous song beneath it.
Listeners must guess the title of the song and send the answer to Radio Victory disc jockey Dave Carson.
Prizes for the competition are £5 gift tokens but Christian Penfold of Automata hopes that sponsorship gained from the broadcast will result in bigger prizes.
"The initial prizes were small but we hope that if this takes off we can arrange to give bigger prizes. The response from the first week's competition was amazing. It started as a six-week experiment but because of the response we hope that we can continue it for a long time."
People who live outside the Radio Victory area may still be able to pick up the signals. Radio Victory is boosting the signals to just within the limits set by Independent Broadcasting Authority guidelines. People have heard signals in Brighton and the Isle of Wight.
British Sinclair-based businessmen have recently visited China to promote the ZX-81. They were part of a group to advise on how to sell computers.
It included Nigel Searle, managing director of Sinclair Research; Richard Hease, chairman of ECC Publications which publishes Sinclair User; and Bob Denton, managing director of Prism Microproducts, distributor of Sinclair products and a sister company of ECC.
It is reported that the group hopes to introduce the ZX-81 into China before cheaper lookalikes of the computer become available. This move follows the scare produced by the introduction of a computer called the Peanut, an inexpensive copy of the Apple II.
A COMPETITION to find the Young Programmer of the Year is to be launched on September 1 by Penguin Books in conjunction with Sinclair Research and the National Association of Youth Clubs.
The competition is aimed mainly at children between seven and 15 and will be judged by Patrick Bossert, the 15-year-old author of You Can Do The Cube.
The award will be advertised in the national press and special attention will be paid to schools, youth clubs and computer groups.