Clive Sinclair, inventor of the ZX Spectrum personal computer, has died

Clive Sinclair, who invented the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, one of the first personal computers, died of cancer on Thursday at the age of 81, his family confirmed. Sinclair was an inventor with an impressive list of electronic products to his name, some, like his pocket calculator, were very successful, while others, like his Sinclair C5 “electric trike” vehicle, decidedly not. .

Born in England in 1940, Sinclair had a knack for creating gadgets. Sinclair Executive’s “slimline” pocket calculator, released in 1972, sold well (probably largely due to its low price) and was on display at one point in the Museum of Modern Art.

Sinclair’s ZX personal computers were cheaper than the popular Commodore 64 and popular with UK consumers. The ZX Spectrum (nicknamed “Speccy”) had a rubber keyboard and color display, and ultimately a library of thousands of games. The first model had 16KB of RAM and sold for £ 125 (around $ 170). The ZX Spectrum sold some 5 million units worldwide, before being discontinued in 1992.

A Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer
Photo by Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

But even many of Sinclair’s less successful inventions were later validated; Sinclair’s Black Watch, which used ‘integrated circuit technology’ according to a 1970s print ad, didn’t really catch on, but it could have inspired some of the fitness trackers everyone now wears on their wrists. . Sinclair’s TV80 pocket TV wasn’t popular back then, but now we all take small screens with us wherever we go. And Elon Musk tweeted his condolences Thursday, saying he “liked” the ZX Spectrum.

The Sinclair C5 electric vehicle, launched in 1985 with a starting price of around £ 399 (around $ 550) was also not a hit with consumers; you had to pedal when the battery was dead, and when seated the operator was below the line of sight of most cars on the road. Oh, and there was no passenger seat: the C5 was a one-seater. It’s probably a bit of a stretch to call it a Tesla precursor, but Sinclair was on to something, maybe a few decades before the mainstream.

“It was the ideas, the challenge, that he found exciting,” said Sinclair’s daughter, Belinda, in an interview with The Guardian. “He had an idea and said, ‘There’s no point in asking if somebody wants it, because they can’t imagine it. the late Steve Jobs, explaining why he didn’t rely on market research for product development: “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. “

Although he was knighted in 1983 for his contributions to the UK computer industry and a pioneer in consumer electronics, Sinclair preferred his slide rule to a calculator. He said he found the Internet and e-mail “boring” and did not use them.

In addition to Belinda, Sinclair is survived by his sons Crispin and Bartholomew, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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