Hersteller + 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 + ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+ Apricot + F1 Apricot_Act Apricot_Portable + + F2 Student + ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------+
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ACT's first venture into the microcomputer world involved a machine called the ACT 800, which was in fact built by an American company and marketed by ACT in the United Kingdom under its own name. The machine enjoyed modest sales, although it was never exactly a best seller.
ACT's really significant micro decision occurred in 1982 when it signed a deal to distribute a machine manufactured by Victor, a US company headed by the colourful Chuck Peddle, the designer of the original Commodore PET and one of the founding fathers of the microcomputer industry.
The computer was called the Victor 9000 in the United States, but was known as the ACT Sirius I in the United Kingdom and Europe. The Sirius became an instant success in Europe. It was the first 16-bit microcomputer and offered what was at that time amazingly good value for money: 128k of memory, twin high capacity floppy disk drives and a very high resolution screen.
Shortly after the Sirius appeared, the microcomputer indus- try was rocked by an event which changed it completely: IBM launched its microcomputer. This, too, was a 16-bit machine, and in fact used the same central processor chip as the Sirius. It was (and is) also an inferior machine, with a higher price, poor ergonomics and a lower resolution display. If any other company had produced it, the IBM PC would have stood little chance against the Sirius. However, IBM had produced it and a very large section of the computer-buying public had been holding back for IBM's machine. It was an immediate and overwhelming success and IBM compatibility became an important criterion for any company entering the 16-bit micro market.
The Sirius was not IBM compatible, of course. Even so, it might have stood some chance had Victor's United States marketing been better. Instead, it became very much a minority machine in America; even though it was launched first and had everything going for it, it became an 'also ran'.
The situation in Europe was very different, however. Incredibly, IBM delayed the European launch of its PC for 18 months and that was ample time for ACT to establish the Sirius as a best seller and to build up a commanding lead. When IBM finally launched its PC in Europe, it found itself up against stiff competition and has never had the overwhelm- ing market penetration in Europe that it enjoys in the States. Ironically, then, ACT could be said to owe some of its success to IBM.
The success of the Sirius prompted ACT to consider making its own computer. It hired an outside consultancy, then known as QED, now as Sector Technology, to design the machine and ' naturally, the first requirement was to think of a project name. Somebody came up with Apricot, ostensibly because it incorporated the letters ACT. Another requirement was that the machine should be at least software compatible with the Sirius, as there was by this time a wealth of Sirius software about, more, in fact, than for the IBM PC.
As launch time approached, naturally efforts were made to come up with a proper name for the beast. A consultancy specialising in product names was hired and it came up with about a dozen or so names, but nobody at ACT really liked any of them and eventually the project name, Apricot, became the machine's real name.
To build the new machine, ACT opened a brand new factory in Glenrothes, Scotland, an area which became known as 'Silicon Glen' because of the number of high tech com- panies situated there.
The original Apricot introduced several new features to computer users, most notably the 31/2 inch Sony inicrofloppy disks. It was probably the first computer outside japan to use this new medium. In the Apricot, ACT managed to package a range of features which were not found even in machines costing twice the price, and the package was a remarkably stylish and small one, too.
Two versions of the machine were launched in June 1983, a single-disk version and a twin-disk version. Although some single-disk machines were made, few were sold and the main purpose of the machine seems to have been to allow advertis- ing which included the words "from 1496", rather like car adverts which quote the lowliest model in the range, even though nobody buys it!
The original machines were joined by extensions to the range: firstly, a twin-disk machine with double-sided drives, and then, in March 1984, two hard disk machines with built-in Winchester disk drives of 5 or 10 Mbytes' capacity. (The 5 Mbyte machine was subsequently discontinued.) But scarcely had the first Apricots left the factory gates than ACT began to plan its next machine. Code-named Rascal, it was aimed at the executive desktop and was intended to be a very stylish, very high tech machine which every ambitious young executive would want to have on his or her desk. And it was to be a portable machine, using the very latest in display technologies, a liquid crystal display instead of a conventional monitor.
QED, the outside design company which designed the original Apricot, was retained as consultants on the new machine, but by this time ACT had set up its own internal design division, ACT Advanced Technology, and fairly early on in Project Rascal it became clear that the two design groups had very different ideas. So the decision was taken to make two machines instead of one, with QED concentrating on a very low cost colour computer, code named Cactus, and ACT Advanced Technology working on the portable, which was code named Actium.
Technically, the Actium was the more interesting of the two. It was the first computer in the world to use the new generation of 80-column, 25-line liquid crystal displays and it also had speech recognition built in. But the Cactus was to prove the more commercially successful, a single-disk colour computer with plenty of features found only on machines costing three times as much.
The Actium was marketed as the Apricot FP, while Cactus formed the base of the F range of computers. The original Cactus machine was the F 1, and was designed to be a low cost, Qentry level' computer. Shortly before the two machines were launched, it was realised that by using half the memory and a single-sided disk drive, an even lower cost machine could be made, and thus was born the Fle, aimed at the educational market.
With the Apricot selling well across Europe, ACT decided to turn its attention to the USA, where capturing even a small percent of the market for desktop computers represented massive sales potential. A problem immediately arose in trying to register the name ACT or Applied Computer Techniques, or any product with these names, as they were already in use in the States. ACT therefore had to extend its use of the Apricot name to cover its products and its US subsidiary. Eventually, in summer 1985, ACT bowed to the inevitable and changed its name worldwide to Apricot Computers.
By the end of 1985, the Apricot empire was quite extensive. In the United Kingdom, separate divisions were in operation to design, make and sell products, with subsidiary divisions handling servicing and repair, the production of pre-printed computer stationery and retailing through a joint venture with Tandy (an American computer manufacturer) AT Computer- world. As well as an American operation, Apricot has wholly- ; owned subsidiaries in France and joint-ventures in Hong @@@ Kong and Australasia.
In its 1985 annual report, Apricot showed a doubling in both turnover and profit, (a feat it has been accomplishing since 1982), to 92 million and 10.6 million respectively. Its market share in Britain stood at somewhere between 20 and 30 percent (depending on which market research organisation you believe).
There is no room in the computer business for a company which stands still. Even while the F range was being launched, and extensions to it planned, work began on a new, top-of-the- range machine, code named Candyfloss. The project was aimed at producing a machine which would compete with the top-range IBM PC, the PC AT. In true Apricot fashion, it was not enough to produce a similar machine at a similar price; Candyfloss had to be smaller, more powerful, offer more facilities and cost less.
The result is the oddly-named XEN, the machine announced in October 1985. This provides considerably more power, features and facilities in a system which is both smaller and cheaper than the IBM AT.
The Apricot family is now arranged in four groups: Apricot Gateway, Apricot Collection, Apricot Professional and Apri- cot Networks. In the following breakdown of the range, we describe each of the machines and give its full specification together with comments on its suitability for various types of work.