Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 03/87 item 01 - scanned

Hoping Sir Clive can get it right this time.

Will the launch of the Z88 laptop finally bring success for Clive Sinclair in the serious PC market? In a personal letter to Sir Clive himself, David Tebbutt points out the pitfalls which may affect his new venture.

Dear Sir Clive,

Welcome to the world of serious computing. I refer, of course, to your already famous Z88 which you launched on 17 February.

I thought I'd pop this letter in the post now, before someone starts the fan, let alone before anything hits it. You will forgive me for feeling a little nervous on your behalf. I remember your great triumphs - the ZX80, the ZX81 and the Spectrum. The excitement and enthusiasm which surrounded these press launches was quickly followed by disappointment as thousands of customers faced delivery delays.

Perhaps we should draw a veil over the QL, the flat screen television and the electric vehicle. All these products were targeted at the consumer market, even though the QL may have had other aspirations. The only people who got irritated and frustrated by delivery problems and performance hiccups were ordinary consumers, people who weren't dependent on your products for the day to day running of their businesses. With the Z88, you have the opportunity to crack the business marketplace, but these potential buyers need to feel very confident about the product and its source of supply.

We can't ignore that you've announced the Z88 in mid-February, but deliveries are not planned until April. That gives you 72 days to get production rolling and the first deliveries on the road. One more day takes you into May and into a lot of flak, because you can be sure that everyone will be watching this with great interest.

You've booked mail order advertising to appear in mid-March. Hmmm. I hope you've been careful to avoid statements like 'please allow 28 days for delivery', otherwise you might have people screaming even before April is out.

The order form on the brochure has a familiar ring to it. I can send my money now and be given an estimated delivery date with the confirmation. 'All orders will be dealt with strictly on a first-come first-served basis.' And already the orders are trickling in.

It is sad that your approach has induced a feeling of deja vu. It is conditioning people like me to expect a re-run of your previous escapades. I'd like to believe that this time it will be different, but I won't be rushing to place my order, like I did with some of your earlier products.

The Z88 looks very attractive. The idea of making it the size of a bumper A4 pad was a good one and, as someone who regularly feels the urge to type in meetings, I welcome the 'virtually silent' keyboard.

It's interesting that a silicone-rubber membrane keyboard could end up being a positive sales advantage. I always feel more confident with solid state storage in a lap-held, so that's another point in the machine's favour. The screen layout is quite ingenious, especially the 'pixel-per-letter' page layout on the right.

As a writer, perhaps these considerations matter to me more than most - I can see the machine catching the imagination of many people who want to type unobtrusively. My guess is that the majority of sales go to those who regularly use, or have access to, an existing computer. Which brings me back to the point of this letter.

PC Dealer's readers are in the serious end of the computer business. It's a sector which has experienced all sorts of flaky goings-on in the past but which is now maturing. Most of the players are professional in their approach and are trying to provide genuinely good products and services.

Hardware, software peripheral and service suppliers are working together to bring real benefits to dealers and users alike. I see your product as just the sort of thing for many data capture and 'home working' activities and, as such, it has a huge potential market among our readers and their users.

I do so hope that you've got your scheduling and quality right this time. By sticking to largely proven technology, the signs are looking good but I hope you will forgive us if we eye you with caution and don't jump up and down with excitement just yet.