Sir Clive Sinclair has never been
very far from the headlines since the launch of
the ZX80. Now, after last year's sale of the
Spectrum and QL rights to Amstrad, he's back with
the favourably received Z88 - and other products,
as John Brissenden
discovered, in our interview.
THE history of Sir Clive Sinclair's
involvement in the UK computer industry has been
one of pinnacles and troughs (and not an awful
lot in between).
being the architect of British interest in home
computing, we have seen the sad tale of the C5
electric vehicle, last year's sale of Sinclair to
Amstrad and the lengthy and acrimonious saga
preceding the arrival of the Z88. It all put Sir
Clive Sinclair's public image at something of a
the appearance of the Z88 portable in the shops
this month marks the return of Sinclair from the
wilderness, and the beginning of his attempt to
reclaim a position among the computer industry's
Z88 is here, and has garnered favourable reviews
from many quarters. In price/performance terms
the tiny machine looks like a potential winner.
himself has always held the concept of
portability - and miniaturisation - close to his
heart. He is confident that the Z88 is right for
the market, and Cambridge Computer is currently
producing 1000 per week. That figure will shortly
can we expect further developments in this area
shortly, maybe even a Z89 or Z90?
thing about the Z88 is the way we've designed it,
of course. It can go on being expanded pretty
well indefinitely," he says.
obviously there's no need to change the machine,
because we just plug in different cartridges and
expand it. In terms of portables, that's our
statement for a long time to come, I think it's
not the sort of product that needs
Clive admits to being unsure exactly how big the
market for the Z88 will be: "We know that
there's a reasonable market, because we can
already see that, but what the potential size of
the market is, we can't tell. Obviously we hope,
we think it's huge, that's why we've done it, but
we can't tell."
he is steadfast when questioned about the adverse
publicity he received over the three-month delays
in the despatch of the machine to mail order
customers, and the run-ins with the Advertising
criticism came from people who weren't the
customers, that was the irony. We never said that
it was going to be available in 28 days, because
it wasn't. We just said if people were prepared
to be one of the first, that's the way to be
first and those people who wanted to be first
the criticism was artificial, because it wasn't
as if we were making anybody unhappy. We were
only making the ASA unhappy apparently," he
says with not a little hesitation. But Sir Clive
says he wouldn't do things the same way again,
simply to avoid being censured by the ASA.
equally, we didn't do anything wrong, and our
customers are very happy," he says.
might have done all he wants to with portables
for the time being, but he is nevertheless
involved in other computer-orientated projects.
area that we're looking at is very high
performance machines. The technology that we've
been building up over the years is towards that
area, because we anticipate that this will be
needed in all sections of computing. What I'm
thinking of now is high-performance desktop
there is the wafer chip, being developed as an
ultrafast access hard disc replacement by
Anamartic. Recent, unconfirmed reports suggested
that Sir Clive had finally won the £4 million
needed to bring the project - currently at
prototype stage - to market.
Clive clarifies the situation. "The position
is that that is broadly what's happening, and
we're expecting to have an agreement signed in
about three weeks' time.
first product will be a 20Mb wafer, and that will
be built into various products. There'll be black
boxes that will contain anything from one upwards
of these wafers," he says.
Anamartic is going to be selling is not
replacements for hard discs, because it does a
lot more than a hard disc, but a sort of
ultra-fast access hard disc.
Research is interested in building wafers into
computers, so that they can increase their
performance, and obviously we will be doing that
as early as we can. The earliest we can see
wafers being in production is late-ish next year,
so that sets the beginning."
company with the Clive connection is Shaye
Communications, which has a 25 per cent stake in
a new pocket telephone project being developed
with Timex, Fred Olsen and the Finnish company
Nokia Mobira, the world's largest producer of
cellular radio. Sir Clive reckons we should see
the pocket phone sometime next year.
thing we definitely won't see is a successor to
the disastrous C5 electric vehicle, launched in
1985. Last reports said that C5 parts had been
bought up and fitted to pushbikes.
C5 was meant to be a stepping stone, because what
we really wanted to do was produce a full range
electric car. We had a design for an 80
mile-per-hour 300 mile range, electric vehicle,
which we conducted a complete design study on.
C5 was meant to come in the next generation, but
of course it got a bad press, and it didn't turn
out to be the success we hoped, and so that fell
by the wayside."
Clive occupies a unique position in the UK
computer world, and there is more to know from
him than the next six months' product schedule.
What, for example, is his view of the much-touted
shift to 16-bit machines which is occupying many
people's attention at the moment?
think, funnily enough, that the 16-bit machines
were and are a mistake. We were the pioneers in
that field, when we came out with the QL long
before Commodore and Atari came out with their
16-bit machines, and the irony is that really the
16-bit machines are not doing anything that the
8-bits couldn't have done," he says. Surely
several thousand Amiga and ST owners, at the very
least, would beg to differ?
nothing wrong with the Atari ST, I'm not knocking
the machine. The Atari ST is a super machine. The
point I'm making is that - it's not super because
it's a 16-bit machine, it's just a nice machine.
certainly don't need 16-bits for games, because
if you look at all the games, people who put out
games for the 16-bit machines, put them out for
the 8-bit machines as well. You could say the
Amiga has got super graphics. It has, but not
because it's a 16-bit machine, but because it's
got a blitter chip in it, so there's the super
graphics," he says. Sir Clive went on to
hint that he's more excited by the prospect of
of which, what of Acorn's RISC-based Archimedes?
It has had publicity this summer, with everybody
marvelling at its speed. King's new clothes, says
was very excited when I first read about it,
because Acorn said this is the most powerful
processor on the block, it's more powerful than
anybody else's machine. If that had been true, it
would have been very exciting and very impressive
- but it happens not to be true at all.
had a look at it, and to give you an example, it
runs quite a lot of mips, four mips as against
two or three on the 80386. The 386 are very
powerful instructions, whereas the RISC machine
necessarily has simpler instructions."
you actually compare them when they're doing an
important task, say multiplying two numbers,
whereas the 386 does it in two microseconds, the
Acorn RISC chip takes about 23 microseconds. So
in fact, when it comes to a serious task, it
isn't any faster, it is actually a lot
course in the real world, there is a huge market
for 16-bit micros, Archimedes is the fastest
micro most of us have seen, and as for 80mph C5s
. . . But it looks like Sir Clive is back with a
bang, and may even have got it right again -
let's hope so.