Freelance Frustration

In 1993, Amstrad were soon to be launching a new product. Apple had just launched its innovative and rather pricey Newton, a personal organiser that could recognise handwriting. Amstrad set out to compete in this new market, with it’s PDA600.


CC 2.0 Blake Patterson

A former colleague contacted me with the proposition of writing the spreadsheet program for the device. This sounded like a great opportunity. Amstrad products were always successful and a portable spreadsheet would be the number one, go to app.

Remuneration would be royalties per copy sold, but based on Amstrad’s former product sales history, it could prove to be quite lucrative. Putting mortgage payments on hold and eking out what little money I had, for a few months, seemed like a reasonable gamble.

The product bombed! A million units manufactured, but sales so poor, they couldn’t sell them at £50 let alone the original RRP of £299. It was a shame. The handwriting recognition was really poor and seriously let it down. As a result, PenCalc sold about twenty copies. A great entrance into the world of freelance programming.

I still maintain that PenCalc was a good program. It worked well and was elegantly integrated with the aesthetic of the device. Sadly, I no longer have a copy of the program, nor even a photograph, but here’s a picture of my development machine and a page from the manual.

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