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Sinclair Research

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Sinclair Research Ltd
Type Limited company
Industry Computing
Founded Cambridge, England (1973)
Headquarters London, England
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)
Employees 140 (1980s)
3 (1990)
1 (1997)
Website Sinclair Research

Sinclair Research Ltd is a consumer electronics company founded by Sir Clive Sinclair in Cambridge, England. Originally incorporated in 1973, it remained dormant until 1976, and didn't adopt the name Sinclair Research until 1981.

In 1980 Clive Sinclair entered the home computer market with the ZX80 at £99.95, at the time the cheapest personal computer for sale in the UK. In 1982 the ZX Spectrum was released, later becoming Britain's best selling computer, competing aggressively against Commodore and Amstrad. At the height of its success, and largely inspired by the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer programme, 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. The 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 their computer products and brand name to Amstrad. Sinclair Research Ltd still exists today as a one man company, continuing to market Sir Clive Sinclair's newest inventions.

Background: 1961-1980

Sinclair Radionics and Sinclair Instrument

On 25 July 1961, Clive Sinclair founded his first company, Sinclair Radionics Ltd. in Cambridge. Sinclair Radionics developed hi-fi products, radios, calculators and scientific instruments. When it became clear that Radionics was failing, he 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. (an off-the-shelf company he bought in September 1973 for just such an eventuality) to Westminster Mail Order Ltd.; this 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, who had been working for Radionics since 1966, to leave and get Sinclair Instrument up and running. The company's first product was a watch-like Wrist Calculator.

Science of Cambridge

In July 1977 Sinclair Instrument Ltd. was renamed as Science of Cambridge Ltd. Around the same time Ian Williamson showed Chris Curry a prototype microcomputer based around a National Semiconductor SC/MP microprocessor and some parts taken from an earlier Sinclair calculator. Curry was impressed and encouraged Sinclair to adopt this as a product; an agreement was reached with Williamson but no contract was ever signed. National Semiconductor had offered to redesign the project so that it used only their components and they also offered to manufacture the boards.

In June 1978 Science of Cambridge launched the microcomputer in kit form, marketed as the MK14. In May 1979 Jim Westwood started a project to design a new microcomputer based on the Zilog Z80 microprocessor at Science of Cambridge. This was launched as the ZX80 in February 1980 at £79.95 in kit form and £99.95 ready-built. In November of the same year Science of Cambridge was renamed Sinclair Computers Ltd.

Success and decline: 1980-1986

Home computers

Timex Sinclair 1000, a U.S. version of the Sinclair ZX81
ZX Spectrum (1982)

In March 1981 Sinclair Computers was renamed Sinclair Research Ltd. and the Sinclair ZX81 was launched at £49.95 in kit form and £69.95 ready-built, by mail order. 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, priced at £125 for the 16 KiB RAM version and £175 for the 48 KiB version. In July Timex launched the TS 1000 (a version of the ZX81) in the US. In March 1982 Sinclair made an £8.55m profit on turnover of £27.17m, including £383,000 government grants for 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. It was sold to Cambridgeshire County Council in December 1985 due to Sinclair's finance troubles.

In January 1983 the ZX Spectrum personal computer was presented at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show. In September the Sinclair TV80 television was launched, using flat-screen technology unlike Sinclair's previous CRT televisions. The TV80 was a commercial failure selling only 15,000 units and not covering its development costs of £4m.

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

In late 1983 Timex decided to pull out of the Timex Sinclair venture, which had failed to break the US market as expected due to strong competition. However Timex computers continued to be produced for several years in other countries. Timex Portugal, with the TS 2048 and 2068, launched improved versions capable of displaying more colours and with a better circuit design. They also developed and launched the FDD 3000, a floppy disk system, that was not well received by the market.

The Sinclair QL was announced on 12 January 1984, shortly before the Apple Macintosh actually went on sale. This was a new computer to be aimed at the business market and costing £399. However, at this point the final design had not yet been completed. Shipping finally started in May, with 13,000 orders taken, but only a few hundred units delivered at first. Because the initially supplied ROM had proved insufficient, early machines were shipped with a "kludge" or "dongle" hanging out of the machine containing an additional ROM chip. 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; complaints against Sinclair regarding delays were upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority in May of the year (in 1982 it had upheld complaints about delays in shipping Spectrums). Especially severe were allegations that it was cashing cheques months before machines were shipped. The QL was nowhere near as successful as Sinclair's earlier computers. In the autumn Sinclair were still publicly predicting it would be a "million seller", with 250,000 sold by the end of the year. QL production was suspended in February 1985, and the price was halved by the end of the year.

Between 1981 and 1988 Sinclair created ten peripherals for their computers including joysticks, a spark printer and memory expansion modules. Some of the peripherals were developed by other companies but still marketed under the Sinclair brand. External storage for the Spectrum was usually on cassette tapes, as was common in the era. Rather than an optional floppy disk drive, Sinclair instead opted to offer their own system, the ZX Microdrive, a tape-loop cartridge system that was rather unreliable. This was also the primary storage device for the QL.

The ZX Spectrum+, a retooled ZX Spectrum with a new keyboard, was launched in October and appeared on WHSmith's shelves the day after release. Retailers stocked the machine in large numbers in expectation of good Christmas sales. However the machine did not sell in the numbers 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 upgraded Spectrum, the ZX Spectrum 128, was launched in Spain in September 1985 by the Spanish firm Investronica. January 1986 saw the machine launched in the UK, apparently in an attempt to generate cash.

Period Profit Turnover
1971 £85,000 £563,000
1972 £97,000 £761,000
1973 £1.8m
1974 £240,000 £4m
1975 £45,000 £6.3m
1976 -£355,000 £5.6m
1977 -£820,000
1978 -£1.98m £6.39m
1980 £131,000 £640,000
1981 £818,000 £4.6m
1982 £8.55m £27.17m
1983 £13.8m £54.53m
1984 £14.28m £77.69m
1985 -£18m £102m
1988 to 1989 -£183,015 £7,825
1989 to 1990 £618,389 £4,754
1989 to 1990 -£271,734 £5,486
1991 to 1992 -£592,600 £1,115
1992 to 1993 -£169,197 £379,836
1993 to 1994 -£194,826 £510,943
1994 to 1995 -£303,630 £435,742
1995 to 1996 -£122,873 £255,826
*All profit and turnover data from

Amstrad acquisition

In January 1985 Sinclair released the "FM Wristwatch Radio", an LCD wristwatch with a radio attached. The aerial was built into the strap and the battery was hidden in the clasp, presumably in an attempt to balance out the considerable weight of the watch. The watch had several usage problems and never went into full production, making it one of the rarest Sinclair products.

Sinclair C5

Sir Clive had long held an interest in electric vehicles and during the early 1980s worked on the design of a single-seater "personal vehicle". A new company, Sinclair Vehicles Ltd, was formed in March 1983 (allowing Sinclair Research to concentrate on electronics) and its Sinclair C5 electric vehicle was launched on 10 January 1985. The battery powered vehicle aimed to solve environmental problems and be the first truly affordable vehicle at £399. It was a commercial disaster, selling only 17,000 units and losing Sinclair £7m, Sinclair Vehicles going into liquidation later the same year. The C5, combined with the failures of the QL and the TV80, caused investors to lose confidence in Sir Clive.

On 28 May 1985, Sinclair had announced that it wanted to raise an extra £10m to £15m to restructure Sinclair Research. Given the loss of confidence in the company, this proved hard to find. On 7 April 1986 the company sold its entire computer product range and the "Sinclair" brand name to Amstrad. This deal did not involve the company, merely its name and products.

Sinclair Research was reduced to an R&D business and holding company, with shareholdings in several new "spin-off" companies, formed to exploit technologies developed by the 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).

Return to invention: 1990s to present

Today the company still exists but in a completely different form than it did in the 1980s. In 1993, 1994 and 1995 Sinclair made continuing losses on decreasing turnover, and began to worry investors since Clive Sinclair himself was using his own personal wealth to fund his inventions. By 1990 Sinclair's entire staff had been reduced to Sinclair himself, a salesperson/administrator, and an R&D employee. By 1997 reportedly only Sinclair on his own was working at his company.

In 1992 the " Zike" electric bicycle was released, Sinclair's second attempt at changing means of transportation. The "Zike" was a commercial failure much like the C5 was, and only sold a total of 2,000 units. It had a maximum speed of 10 mph (16 km/h), and was only available through mail order.

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. In 1999 Sinclair released the world's smallest radio with the "Z1 Micro AM Radio".

On 12 July 2006, the A-bike, a folding bicycle invented by Sir Clive Sinclair, was released and went on sale for £200. It had been originally announced two years previously, in 2004.

Cancelled projects

The following computer products were under development at Sinclair Research during the 1980s but never reached production:

  • LC3: standing for "Low Cost Colour Computer", the LC3, developed during 1983 by Martin Brennan, was intended to be a cheap Z80-based games console implemented in two chips, using ROM and (non-volatile) RAM cartridges for storage. A multi-tasking OS for the LC3 with a full windowing GUI was designed by Steve Berry. It was cancelled in November 1983 in favour of the QL.
  • SuperSpectrum: intended to be a 68008-based home computer, with built-in ZX Microdrive, joystick, RS-232 and ZX Net ports. Sinclair's SuperBASIC programming language was originally intended for this model but was later adopted for the QL. SuperSpectrum was cancelled in 1982 after the specification of the ZX83 (QL) had converged with it. (Not to be confused with Loki, which was described as the "SuperSpectrum" in an article in the June 1986 issue of Sinclair User magazine)
  • Pandora: this was to be a portable computer with an integral flat-screen CRT display. Initially to be ZX Spectrum-compatible with a faster Z80 CPU, a built-in ZX Microdrive and a new 512×192-pixel monochrome video mode. Due to the limited size of flat CRT that could be manufactured, a series of folding lenses and mirrors were necessary to magnify the screen image to a usable size. The project was cancelled after the Amstrad take-over; however, the Pandora concept eventually transformed into the Cambridge Computer Z88.
  • Loki: this project was an enhanced ZX Spectrum intended to rival the Commodore Amiga. Loki was to have a 7 MHz Z80H CPU, 128 KiB of RAM and two custom chips providing much enhanced graphics and audio capabilities. After the Amstrad buy-out in 1986, two engineers who had worked on the project, John Mathieson and Martin Brennan, founded Flare Technology to continue their work.
  • Bob/Florin: according to Rupert Goodwins, this was a project to produce an add-on floppy disk drive for the ZX Spectrum.
  • Tyche: this codename was assigned to a QL follow-on project running from 1984 to 1986. Among the features associated with Tyche were increased RAM capacity, internal floppy disk drives, the Psion Xchange application suite on ROM, and possibly the GEM GUI.
  • Janus: this name has been associated with a design concept for a "Super QL" based on wafer-scale integration technology.
  • Proteus: this was rumoured to be a hypothetical portable version of the QL similar to Pandora.
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