Clive Sinclair, the British inventor and entrepreneur who brought affordable computers into people’s homes in the 1980s, died on Thursday at the age of 81.
Sinclair, whose passion for technology made him a fortune and earned him a knighthood in the 1980s, passed away following a long illness, his daughter Belinda Sinclair told British media.
Sinclair, who was born in 1940, started building gadgets as a child. He left school at 17 and worked as a technical journalist before starting up his own company in 1961. In 1972, he launched a series of groundbreaking pocket calculators. The gadgets were a financial success and gathered praise for what was, at the time, their sleek, cutting-edge design.
Sinclair launches ZX computer series
But the inventor’s personal golden age arrived in the early 1980s. Sinclair’s home computer the ZX80 was designed to be cheap and accessible. Launched in 1980, it was also sold in kit form for customers who wanted to put the device together themselves.
It sold 50,000 units while its successor, the ZX81, which replaced it, sold 250,000. Many video game industry veterans got their start typing programs into its touch-based keyboard and became hooked on games such as as 3D Monster Maze and Mazogs.
It was followed up by ZX81 and then ZX Spectrum 48K in 1982. The series rivaled the better-known Commodore 64 in the early video game market.
Similar to other computer pioneers such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Sinclair played a key role in bringing personal computers to people’s homes. The computer boom also made him a millionaire.
At the time, personal computers were very expensive but Sinclair managed to sell his machines for around £100 ($150), making them something everyone could buy.
Sinclair was “too early” with his inventions
All of these machines were popular but his later venture, an electric vehicle called Sinclair C5, was a flop and cost him financially. Subsequently, he sold off his computer business to Alan Sugar’s Amstrad.
The C5, a battery-powered electric trike, was launched in January 1985, with Sinclair predicting sales of 100,000 in the first year. But it flopped, and Sinclair Vehicles found itself in receivership by October of the same year. Reviews expressed concerns about the safety of driving a vehicle below the sight line of other motorists, as well as exposure to the elements.
Commenting on the C5 and its failure to catch on, Belinda Sinclair said: “I think sometimes he was a bit too early (with his inventions). He was very good at imagining things that people might like or might need, even though they didn’t know they wanted them.”
Several of his later inventions, including a pocket TV and an electric motor that could be fitted to a pedal bicycle, also failed to sell.