Sinclair Research

Sinclair Research Ltd
Limited company
Industry Computing
Electronics
Founded Cambridge, England, UK (1973)
Headquarters London, England, UK
Key people
Sir Clive Sinclair, Founder
Nigel Searle, Director (1979 to 1986)
Jim Westwood
Rick Dickinson, Designer
Products Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Sinclair QL
Revenue £102 million GBP (1985)
Number of employees
140 (1980s)
3 (1990)
1 (1997)

Sinclair Research Ltd is a British consumer electronics company founded by Clive Sinclair in Cambridge. It was originally incorporated in 1973 as Westminster Mail Order Ltd, renamed Sinclair Instrument Ltd, then Science of Cambridge Ltd, then Sinclair Computers Ltd, and finally Sinclair Research Ltd in 1975. It remained dormant until 1976, when it was activated with the intention of continuing Sinclair's commercial work from his earlier company Sinclair Radionics, and adopted the name Sinclair Research in 1981.

In 1980, Clive Sinclair entered the home computer market with the ZX80 at £99.95, at that time the cheapest personal computer for sale in the United Kingdom. In 1982 the ZX Spectrum was released, becoming the UK's best selling computer, and competing aggressively against Commodore and Amstrad.

At the height of its success, and largely inspired by the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer program, the company established the "MetaLab" research centre at Milton Hall near Cambridge, in order to pursue artificial intelligence, wafer-scale integration, formal verification and other advanced projects. A combination of the failures of the Sinclair QL computer and the TV80 led to financial difficulties in 1985, and a year later Sinclair sold the rights to its computer products and brand name to Amstrad. [1] Sinclair Research Ltd still exists as a one-man company, continuing to market Clive Sinclair's inventions.

History

Profit and turnover data [2]
Period Profit Turnover
1980 Increase £131K £640K
1981 Increase £818K £4.6m
1982 Increase £8.55m £27.17m
1983 Increase £13.8m £54.53m
1984 Increase £14.28m £77.69m
1985 Decrease −£18m £102m
1988 to 1989 Decrease −£183K £8K
1989 to 1990 Increase £618K £5K
1990 to 1991 Decrease −£272K £5K
1991 to 1992 Decrease −£593K £1K
1992 to 1993 Decrease −£169K £380K
1993 to 1994 Decrease −£195K £511K
1994 to 1995 Decrease −£304K £436K
1995 to 1996 Decrease −£123K £256K

Founding and early years

On 25 July 1961, Clive Sinclair founded his first company, Sinclair Radionics Ltd. in Cambridge. The company developed hi-fi products, radios, calculators and scientific instruments. When it became clear that Radionics was failing, Sinclair took steps to ensure that he would be able to continue to pursue his commercial goals. In February 1975, he changed the name of Ablesdeal Ltd (a shelf company he had bought in September 1973 for just such an eventuality) to Westminster Mail Order Ltd. The name was changed to Sinclair Instrument Ltd in August 1975.

Finding it inconvenient to share control after the National Enterprise Board became involved in Radionics in 1976, Sinclair encouraged Chris Curry to leave Radionics, which he had worked for since 1966, and get Sinclair Instrument operational. The company's first product was a watch-like Wrist Calculator.

Development of the ZX80

In July 1977, Sinclair Instrument Ltd was renamed Science of Cambridge Ltd. Around the same time, Ian Williamson showed Chris Curry a prototype microcomputer based on a National Semiconductor SC/MP microprocessor and parts from a Sinclair calculator. Curry was impressed and encouraged Sinclair to adopt it as a product. In June 1978, Science of Cambridge launched its MK14 microcomputer in kit form.

In May 1979, Jim Westwood, Sinclair's chief engineer, designed a new microcomputer based on the Zilog Z80 microprocessor. Sinclair Instrument Ltd introduced the computer as the ZX80 in February 1980, as both a kit and ready-built. [3]

In November 1979, Science of Cambridge Ltd was renamed Sinclair Computers Ltd.

Commercial success and home computers

ZX Spectrum (1982)

In March 1981, Sinclair Computers was renamed Sinclair Research Ltd and the Sinclair ZX81 was launched. In February 1982, Timex Corporation obtained a license to manufacture and market Sinclair's computers in the USA under the name Timex Sinclair. In April the ZX Spectrum was launched. In July Timex launched the TS 1000 (a version of the ZX81) in the United States. In March 1982 Sinclair Research Ltd made an £8.55m profit on turnover of £27.17m, including a £383,000 government grant to develop a flat screen.

In 1982 Clive Sinclair converted the Barker & Wadsworth mineral water bottling factory at 25 Willis Road, Cambridge, into the company's new headquarters. (Following Sinclair's financial troubles, the premises were sold to Cambridgeshire County Council in December 1985.)

In January 1983 the ZX Spectrum personal computer was presented at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. In September the Sinclair TV80 pocket television was launched, but was a commercial failure.

In 1983 the company bought Milton Hall in the village of Milton, Cambridgeshire, for £2m, establishing its MetaLab research and development facility there.

In late 1983 Timex decided to pull out of the Timex Sinclair venture which, due to strong competition, had failed to break into the United States market. However, Timex computers continued to be produced for several years in other countries. Timex Portugal launched improved versions, the TS 2048 and 2068; that company also developed and launched the FDD 3000, a floppy disk system, although it was not well received by the market.

Mid-1980s developments

The Sinclair QL was announced on 12 January 1984, shortly before the Apple Macintosh went on sale. [4] The QL was nowhere near as successful as Sinclair's earlier computers. It suffered from several design flaws, [5] and Your Sinclair noted that it was "difficult to find a good word for Sinclair Research in the computer press".

Fully-working QLs were not available until late summer and complaints against Sinclair regarding delays were upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority in May of that year. (In 1982 it had upheld complaints about delays in shipping Spectrums.) Especially severe were allegations that Sinclair was cashing cheques months before machines were shipped. In the autumn Sinclair was still publicly predicting it would be a "million seller", and that 250,000 would be sold by the end of the year. [6] QL production was suspended in February 1985, and the price was halved by the end of the year. [7]

The ZX Spectrum+, a repackaged ZX Spectrum with a QL-like keyboard, was launched in October 1984 and appeared in WHSmith's shops the day after release. Retailers stocked the machine in large numbers in expectation of good Christmas sales. However, the machine did not sell as well as expected and, because retailers still had unsold stock, Sinclair's income from orders dipped alarmingly in January. The Spectrum+ had the same technical specifications as the original Spectrum. An enhanced model, the ZX Spectrum 128, was launched in Spain in September 1985, with development funded by the Spanish distributor Investronica. [8] The UK launch of this was delayed until January 1986, because retailers had large unsold stocks of the previous model. [9]

At the January 1985 Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, Sinclair re-entered the United States market, announcing the "FM Wristwatch Radio", an LCD wristwatch with a radio attached. [10] However, the watch had several problems and never went into full production.

Sinclair had long had an interest in electric vehicles, and during the early 1980s he worked on the design of a single-seater "personal vehicle", eventually starting a company called Sinclair Vehicles Ltd in March 1983. He launched the Sinclair C5 electric vehicle on 10 January 1985, but it was a commercial disaster, selling only 17,000 units and losing Sinclair £7,000,000. Sinclair Vehicles went into liquidation later the same year. The failure of the C5, combined with those of the QL and the TV80, caused investors to lose confidence in Sinclair's judgement.

Amstrad acquisition of assets

Clive Sinclair sold the brand name to Alan Sugar's Amstrad in 1986

On 28 May 1985, Sinclair Research had announced it wanted to raise an extra £10m to £15m to restructure the organisation. Given the loss of confidence in the company, the money proved hard to find. In June 1985, business magnate Robert Maxwell announced a takeover of Sinclair Research, through Hollis Brothers, a subsidiary of his Pergamon Press. [11] However the deal was aborted in August 1985. [2]

The future of Sinclair Research remained uncertain until 7 April 1986, when the company sold its entire computer product range, and the "Sinclair" brand name, to Amstrad for £5 million. [12] [13] The deal did not include the company itself, only its name and products.

Spin-offs

Sinclair Research was reduced to an R&D business and a holding company, with shareholdings in several new "spin-off" companies formed to exploit technologies developed by the main company. These included Anamartic Ltd ( wafer-scale integration), Shaye Communications Ltd ( CT2 mobile telephony) and Cambridge Computer Ltd ( Z88 portable computer and satellite TV receivers). [2]

Return to invention

Inventors of the A-bike, Sir Clive Sinclair and Alexander Kalogroulis

Since 1986, the company has continued to exist, but in a completely different form. In 1993, 1994 and 1995 Sinclair made continuing losses on decreasing turnover. Investors became worried that Clive Sinclair himself was using his own personal wealth to fund his inventions. By 1990 the company's entire staff had been reduced to just Sinclair himself, a salesman/administrator, and an R&D employee. By 1997 only Sinclair himself was working at his company.

In 1992, the " Zike" electric bicycle was released, Sinclair's second attempt at changing people's means of transport. It had a maximum speed of 10 mph (16 km/h), and was only available by mail order. Much like the C5, the "Zike" was a commercial failure, and sold only 2,000 units. In 1999 Sinclair released the world's smallest radio, in the form of the "Z1 Micro AM Radio".

In 2003, the Sinclair "ZA20 Wheelchair Drive Unit" was introduced, designed and manufactured in conjunction with Hong Kong's Daka Designs, a partnership which also led to the SeaDoo Sea Scooter underwater propulsion unit.

July 2006 saw the release of the A-bike, a folding bicycle invented by Sinclair, which was on sale for £200. It had been originally announced two years previously. In November 2010, Sinclair Research announced the X-1 two-wheel electric vehicle, which failed to reach production.

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