|★ PEOPLES ★ CPC STAFF ★ SWEET FUTURE ★|
|Sugar Talks: Sweet Future (Popular Computing Weekly)||Peoples Cpc Staff|
The past year has seen Amstrad's computer operations going from strength to strength, with a worldwide total of 750,000 PCW8256/8512 sold, and 450,000 PC1512 sold between last September and the end of June.
But that time has also seen Amstrad involved in controversial claim and counter claim as it tried to broaden its base into the business market. The new machine marks a further development of this trend, being aimed at the typewriter, rather than any computer market.
Last week's launch of the PCW9512 offered a rare opportunity for a face to face encounter with the man behind the beard - Alan Michael Sugar. John Brissenden came back with this report.
The past year has seen Amstrad Consumer Electronics grow to dominate the UK volume computer industry, to a point where press and public interest in the activities of Britain's most profitable company has never been greater So what about this new PCW then? We asked Alan a few salient questions last week, about the new machine, about the PC1512 and 1640, and about the computer market in general.
First of all he ran through the major differences between the 9512 and the old 8000 series machines - the addition of the daisywheel printer is the most important -and explained the different market the new machine is aimed at "If you can criticise a product that you sell three-quarters of a million of it covers the criticism of the previous machine. It covers the areas that excluded the previous machine from the real, serious' end of wordprocessing," he says. But what constitutes "serious"?
The lawyers and the accountants who really love the idea of the PCW. but couldn't really send their clients' letters printed with the dot-matrix format, and to whom, therefore. the quality of the printing was essential
"The printer has also been improved in that you have a very wide carnage, which enables you to put the 15" tractor paper on I'm not quite sure why one needs to put 15" tractor paper on, but then again this is the Amstrad way. this is what the people have asked for and this is what we've given them."
But if the new machine is so wonderful, where does that leave the 8000 series? Amstrad continues to deny that the 8256/8512 is being discontinued, and only last month announced large price cuts on both But will they still sen and will they be dropped shortly?
"We re quite flexible as far as that's concerned - we ll make it as long as it sells. We moved the price down to £299 last week, and the reaction to it so far has been very, very good As tar as we re concerned the 8256 is around as long as there's a market for it
"Any market where we see a possibility of selling at least 3-400 pieces a week of anything, we're interested in. Now if that market's declining or not is irrelevant, because if it dedines to something like 55 pieces per annum, well, we'll respectfully butl out."
An example of this philosophy is expected sales of the Plus 2 and Plus 3 Spectrums of 200,000 this Christmas alone Very similar to the suntan lotion market” is how Sugar describes the vast seasonal sales of this ageing 8-bit technology.
As far as the new machines - and the PCs - are concerned, a lot of criticism has been levelled at Amstrad s perceived failure to break into the corporate market, particularly in the States. The PC1640 doesn't seem to have done the trick, either "Well, this is a touchy subject, this corporate account thing I think the terminology really is not so much corporate accounts as business users A company will approach IBM and say: 'We have a use for 2,000 of your machines for this particular application, and were not only buying these machines, but we're buying the allround service of coming in and setting up.'
Now we re not in that business - we are in the business of supplying companies with these machines. We won't ever supply them with 2,000 pieces at one go, because they don't want 2,000 pieces at one go But it will be evaluated by whoever buys typewriters and wordprocessors in the organisation and put on the purchase lisl "So yes. they will be used in large corporations, by the sheer fact lhat the price of the product enables the user not to have to go to a board meeting to get permission to buy one So if we were inclined to do so, if we went to a corporation and actually asked somebody how many Amstrad machines you have in your entire company, the figures would be shattering. But ask them how many they bought in one consignment, and they wouldn't know."
“First of all, there was the bold, going out and buying it, sitting down and punching away. Then there was the less bold, observing that the first one was using it. We're now looking for the stingy.”
As far as the 9512 itself is concerned, Sugar reckons that the additional features which mark it from the 8000 series will be sufficiently attractive to justify the extra £200 people will have to pay But about December, the 9512 is expected to overtake the 8000 models in sales Amstrad has spent most of the past twelve months embroiled in controversy -not to mention litigation - over the technical failings and commercial problems of the PC 1512 and 1640 Sugar's response to claims that the 1512 is dead, and likely to be shelved, is characteristically dismissive.
"There's been so much flak and nonsense spoken about the 1512 supposedly being dead and all that nonsense it is nonsense because I can ten you that right now in the factory we re producing more 1512s than we are 1640s.
Quite honestly, that perhaps wasn't the Initial thought when the 1640 was conceived in the very early part of this year But what we have identified is that the home compiler market is becoming more serious. It's coming away from the Sinclair end of the market, the joystick and games playing type end of the market Sugar adds, before making his position on the MS DOS/Acorn debate very clear.
"When we consider that people were paying £399 not so long ago for an Acorn computer, which was basically a 6502 product with just a keyboard, it obviously sparked off in our mind the idea that the 1512's position should be that of a home computer Logically if you buy it tor your son or your daughter, they may as well use a machine which they can get some use out of later on in life That is our new kind of marketing policy on the 1512 That sounds OK, if you ignore the fact that the initial "compatible with you know who ' ad campaign was specifically target-ted at business users, and never mind that it took a stunning display of apathy on the part of the business market before this new marketing policy was considered ' The potential purchaser also thinks to himself. Well, I remember the Sinclair that I bought four or five years ago, which is now tucked under the bed somewhere. I bought it with a little bit of interest thinking that maybe I may be able to use it myself * Well they found out very quickly that it was totally useless, but buying the 1512 is not reality useless for the chap it he desires to take home some of his work So there's another angle on why the 1512 is now poised in the home computer market " is the new PCW, together with the repriced 8000 models, part of an attempt to exponentially develop the wordprocessor market or does Sugar reckon most people will merely upgrade?
Price always helps on a major breakthrough Price tips the scales - £299. It sparks off another chain of consumers So, yes. maybe we could expect to expand the market a little bit more. Lots of people are still hovering around, seeing that their friends are using these machines, and E299 comes just low enough to tip the scales to make them buy one "We found with the PCW consumer that there was the bold, first of all, going out and buying it, and sitting down and punching away, and then there was the less bold observing. And then the less bold observed that the first one was actually using it. We re now looking for the stingy,"
One possible problem for Sugar in the US - always perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a make or break market for computer manufacturers - could be the continued use of products based on the ageing and weak Z80 processor Is this causing a credibility gap?
The funny thing is that no one asks what processor it's got My famous answer of course is an elastic band, because really the type of consumer that's using the 9512 is not interested in what's inside it. And that's our target audience.
The 8256 was somewhat of a disappointment m America in the beginning, because the marketing philosophy was wrong It was being marketed as a computer and a word processor together. The minute you mention the word computer' they want a 386 Intel processor sitting In it. You mention a Z80, and they just walk away And that's why we deliberately market this as a wordprocessor So what of the future? This week sees Amstrad s end of year results, which are expected to be even more phenomenal than last year's And then the rumour machine grinds on, with talk of satellite TV, laser printers and the like But watch out for that 80386-based PC in the New Year.
Popular Computing Weekly