Deconstructing Product Design
The Sinclair ZX81 (which I knew as Timex-Sinclair 1000) was my first computer, and I simply loved this device. It was a computer that you could hold in your hand! On it, I taught myself BASIC and designed and played any number of amazingly simple games.
I remember to buy it, I had to go to a tiny little specialty computer store that also sold all manner of little electronic kits.
The product design itself was probably (for the time) a wonder. It was tiny but had 2K (!) of RAM, and lots of extension ports that you could plug more memory into (as well as your TV set for a monitor, and even a tiny dot-matrix printer). The keyboard was built in (the device was molded plastic) and, if you left the machine on for long periods like I did, the keys grew noticeably hot. I used to put ice cubes in a plastic bag and put them on top of the device to cool it down!
I carried this device around a lot, I remember, even though I don’t remember using it outside my house ever. But I liked to show it off. Eventually, I replaced this with a newer computer, but I wish I knew where my TS1000 is. I would still keep it on my desk.
[I’m a software professional, whatever that means 😉 with 15+ years of software experience. I grew up on the ZX-81, the Spectrum, and then the C64.]
Look, the machine is functionally kind of a piece of junk. Especially if you were trying to use the 16K RAM Pack! The keyboard really sucked. Sure, it /looks/ pretty sexy in pictures, what with the stark black white and red design, but actually using the thing was often quite frustrating.
However, even though i think that is the truth, the fact of the matter is that it was by far Good Enough for its time and place. The price, the functionality (e.g. the cheesy entry method which helped make up for how bad the keyboard was, and helped make it more obvious what keywords there were to learn), and also very importantly the culture (magazines with program listings; other people who had the same machine) all summed up to make it a great thing.
P.S. Funny how nobody ever talks about the ZX-80. Just because it was really nasty ugly lookin’?
Computer puppy love. The Sinclair’s magazine ad provided no real clue as to what it did, but no matter — I was hooked. With its “low” price, I calculated (incorrectly) that my allowance could get me one in mere months. But a few weeks into my plan, tragedy struck — I spied one at an electronics store. Rushing over, I mashed on the keyboard and awaited my destiny. But no magic issued forth. Instead, arcane symbols filled the screen and my fingers ached desperately. Love was fleeting at that young age, awaiting maturity in the form of the Commodore 64.
As an optional accessory, a “usable” keyboard was proposed. Funny to remember! A thin plastic board with solid keys, that you would stick on top of the original rubber keyboard.
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