Timex expands hot-selling home computer line

By , Business correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

The Timex Sinclair 1000, the little home computer racing ahead in market share with the low price of $49.95, will soon have the company of two siblings. ''We are planning on having a family of computers,'' says Daniel Ross, vice-president of computer products for Timex Computer Corporation in Waterbury, Conn. The firm's parent is Timex Corporation, the watchmaker.

Yesterday, Timex announced plans to introduce a more powerful computer called the Timex Sinclair 1500. The new computer will be available in mid-July and will retail for about $79.95. Further along, in August, Timex will sell a computer called the 2000. This will be the big kid in its computer family, with the most memory and the highest price - $199.95.

Since last fall, Timex has halved the price of the 1000 and switched from mail-order distribution to mass-merchandising in department stores. It is advertising the TS 1000 as a computer that can help you decide whether computing is for you or not. The price is so low, the ads imply, that you've got nothing to lose in buying the product. The marketing strategy has worked. According to Future Computing, a computer research firm, Timex sold 20 percent of the home computers purchased last year - and should have 29 percent of the unit volume by year-end.

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Mr. Ross says the 1500 will also be marketed as ''a computer literacy'' tool. Most of the TS 1000 software - instructions that allow computers to do certain functions, such as game playing or checkbook balancing - will also work on the new computer. But in addition, the 1500 will have its own set of software, including ViewCalc - the company's version of a popular accounting-type program called VisiCalc. The 1500 will have a raised keyboard, not the smooth, touch-sensitive keys on the 1000, and will also have more memory - 16K (kilobytes) compared with 2K.

But Bill Ablondi, vice-president of the personal computer market group at Future Computing, says Timex can't stick with the computer-literacy strategy forever. He calls it ''a viable approach for now,'' but adds that Timex ''will have to move their customers up their product line in order to be successful in the long run.'' He says he believes consumers will want to put their $49.95 or $ 79.95 toward computers with more features, rather than spend it on an experiment.

Timex is trying to move consumers up the product line, but is not pushing them too fast. For instance, the 1500 still has a lot in common with its predecessor: It uses the same hookup to the TV screen; it uses the same printer; and, like the 1000, it runs on software stored on tape cassettes or cartridges.

The TS 2000, due later in the summer, will come in two versions - one with a 72K memory and the other with 40K. Both versions link up to the TV and also run with software cassettes. Generally, computer users complain that tape cassettes are two slow, even though they are much less expensive than magnetic disks and disk drives. Ross says Timex ''isn't done yet'' with its product enhancements and could come out with disk equipment.

He stressed, however, the company's goal to keep a lid on price: ''The masses have come to expect that the main console will have a lower price, but when they go to the store to add on a piece of equipment, they find it costs two or three times more than the console.''

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