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The Hobbit is a Soviet computer which was built to be compatible with the ZX Spectrum, but with some extensions. For example it has more memory and can run CP/M. The Hobbit had favourable reviews in the Your Sinclair magazine, and was briefly marketed in the UK.

But why was it withdrawn from the UK market so quickly? Seems like it would have had more than enough customers, even in 1990; the ZX Spectrum itself was still selling well at that time.

  • I suspect if we will ask developers of this computer directly, we will not get the definitive answer. Nothing material can be found over internet as far as I can see. The possible issues could be: (a) political, (b) economical, and (c) intellectual property infringement. Most probably the mixture of all these. Or just someone in power personally decided that this project must not fly. – Anonymous Dec 7 '18 at 12:41
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    The contemporaneous Sam Coupe didn't manage to find more than enough customers, alas. – Tommy Dec 7 '18 at 12:58
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    "Seems like it would have had more than enough customers" is not a viable business plan in a capitalist country. But it may be a viable plan in a controlled economy, of course. A Western launch of a clone of an existing system whose sales were already decreasing, right at the end of the 8-bit home computing era, didn't have much chance of commercial success. – alephzero Dec 7 '18 at 13:23
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As already said (in the comments) it will take more than just a few interviews to get an idea why. It's the crux of this kind of questions as there is rarely a definitive answer. Looking at the timeframe, it seems obvious: The time for a mass marketed, simple 8-bit system designed in 1982 had passed by 1991

But why was it withdrawn from the UK market so quickly?

The first question would be: Was it even marketed active - thats beyond a few adds and some shops serving a shrinking fan base?

The first guess would be: Not a viable business anymore.

Seems like it would have had more than enough customers, even in 1990; the ZX Spectrum itself was still selling well at that time.

Of course, 'well' depends much on an individual POV. At that time even the C64 was on it's way down. While there was a last surge in 1990, due to the opening of the iron curtain, with about 1 million units worldwide, it was on a decline. The C64 being without any doubt the #1 8-bit machine had already reached its end in the late 1980s.

Similar things can be said about the Spectrum itself. After all, production ended already in 1992, which is not only two years prior to the C64, but also rather short after the attempt to place the Hobbit. Unlike the latter, all production, development and marketing costs where long payed back. Despite that, Spectrums could be produced at an incredibly low price, it seems as if it wasn't worth any business anymore. Unlike that the Hobbit had a way more costly design and needed to make its inroads against super cheap sales of the genuine system.

Heck, even the SAM Coupé, introduced in 1989 as an upward path from the Spectrum ceased sales in 1992. It was much more praised than the Hobbit, still it was too late.

And it was not only technology-wise, but also on simple monetary terms. 300 GBP (~1000 Mark at that time) could buy you a basic 286 PC with 512 KiB RAM and two floppies (400 GBP with a HD) - so why paying ~150 GBP to get a a strange 64 KiB Computer with a single floppy?

The Hobbit had favourable reviews in the Your Sinclair magazine, and was briefly marketed in the UK.

Yes, in a fan magazine made to cheer Sinclair products. One that, BTW, stopped publishing shortly thereafter (1993), after being sold around 1990, probably not because being such a great investment.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting this down. Still such magazines are not really a measurement for success and especially not for objectivity. I like to see the various Amiga publications after 1990 as a window into a parallel world that never existed. Maybe we should not read them as computer magazines, but fantastic literature, an art form in its own right :))

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    The cheering on of the Amiga's past technological glory was certainly preeminent in those magazines - like Amiga World and Amazing Computing. However, all the praise for Newtek and the VT was real and deserved. That's why I got out of Amiga in 1991... didn't have any real use for a VT... – Brian H Dec 7 '18 at 17:35
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    Such as it's relevant to market size, the Sam sold around 12,000 per the frequently-circulated-but-never-sourced figure. Also, anecdotally, I'm sure I've read at least one person disputing whether the Hobbit was ever actually imported into the UK in any real commercial quantities at all, so the idea may have been abandoned before it even began rather than shortly thereafter. – Tommy Dec 7 '18 at 18:21
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    The SAM Coupé had huge goodwill going into the market - made by a trusted Spectrum peripheral company, lots of press from Mel Croucher's buddies in the magazines - and yet it still failed. The Hobbit had none of those, and so less of a chance. And re Amiga fantasists — they still exist! I knew which ones to hide from at World of Commodore last weekend – scruss Dec 7 '18 at 20:52
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    @scruss And so do many other old systems. I did not intend to curb the enthusiasm - in fact, I love it - just, fandom is never a good frame for a serious view on how thing evolved. (Too bad the SAM didn't make it far - they are rather rare on the continent.) – Raffzahn Dec 7 '18 at 21:22
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In 1991 places buying 8-bit machines were decidedly not the UK or "the west" in general. In contrast, this was precisely when Atari found a new life in Poland.

So I suspect the basic story here is that they introduced this machine in the fSov block because those people were still buying them - largely due to exchange rates I'd guess. And then someone in the UK thought "well the Spectrum was a hit, so this will be even better!" thereby missing the point that the PC had already taken over the market so completely that they were even driving Apple out of the industry.

Look at it another way, what 8-bit machine was a success in the 1991 time frame in the 1st world? Some leftover MSX in Japan and South America... and?

  • Is fSov a typo? I do not recognise that variable. – LangLangC Dec 8 '18 at 14:31
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    fSov = former Soviet Union – Maury Markowitz Dec 9 '18 at 15:23

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