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Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

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10.7.1 First to market

Some companies have an offensive strategy in which they aim to be first to market with a new product. Such companies can be a major source of new products. This is risky as it requires a large investment in developing the product and cultivating the market before any return can be expected from sales. However it can be the most rewarding strategy, especially if the market can be sustained by continual incremental improvements to the product and the market share defended against competitors.

In the 1970s and 1980s Clive Sinclair's company Sinclair Research was first to market in the UK with a series of inventive products including pocket calculators, digital watches and home computers. For example the Sinclair ZX80 microcomputer, launched in 1980, was the first computer made to appeal to the mass market. Developed as a build-it-yourself programmable computer, it was designed to connect to a television set and to a cassette recorder for loading programs. It was small and lightweight, weighing just 340 grams and was accessible to a wide sector of the population, being priced at just £99. All these characteristics made the Sinclair ZX80 the forerunner of a whole generation of personal computers. Its successor, the ZX81, had a better programming language called BASIC, fewer components, a simpler design and was £30 cheaper.

In 1982 the ZX Spectrum added colour, became the company's most significant commercial success and enabled Sinclair Research to achieve market dominance in the UK in the early 1980s. However the company was eventually out-performed by a number of companies that had followed it into the microcomputer market that Sinclair Research had helped to establish.