When Timex Co. President Dan Ross says the personal computer market is in "electronic limbo," he doesn't mean that it isn't going anywhere.
He's referring to the Caribbean game where backward-leaning dancers try to slip beneath the bar just a few inches above the ground without losing their balance.
The personal computer industry is in that same delicate posture, Ross and other officials say, with manufacturers bending their prices further and further back while trying not to topple over into red ink. Price, not new technologies, is the main story at the Consumer Electronics Show now under way in Chicago, industry experts say.
In less than a year, Timex has just cut the price of its $99 computer in half. The company unveiled a new under-$100 computer at the show that is far more versatile than its predecessor. Atari, the nation's largest video game company, announced a new family of low-cost home computers. Commodore International, a major figure in the personal computer price war, said that its Commodore 64 computer, which sold for $590 last year, will sell for less than $250 by fall.
However, the talk of the show has been Coleco Industries' new Adam computer system. Unlike most other personal computers, whose components are sold separately, Adam is being marketed as a complete package. That package includes mass memory storage, a typewriter-like keyboard, entertainment and home-use software plus a daisy wheel, letter-quality printer all for "under $600."
"If they can deliver what they say they can, I'll be the first in line to buy it," said Dennis Koble, an executive at Imagic, a California-based video games design company.
However, the Coleco move reflects the belief held by many in the industry that selling computers and their software as an overall package may prove more successful than selling them as separate items.
Commodore, which plays a prominent role in computer hardware, announced yesterday that it would introduce a line of low-cost software to support its machines. These computer programs range from games and entertainment to very sophisticated data-management systems.
One program drawing special attention was Magic Desk, which Commodore says is its "answer to the Apple Lisa." Magic Desk, which is designed to offer users a comprehensive data base management system, is similar to the Apple Lisa in that the system is operated with pictures rather than typed commands. Magic Desk displays an office scene on the computer screen complete with symbols of a typewriter, desk, files and wastebasket. By using a joystick in a game-like manner, the user can skip from word-processing functions to data storage to calculation. Programs of this sort have sold in the past for several hundred dollars. One software distributor, who declined to be named, speculated that Commodore wants to put the same kind of price-cutting pressures on the software industry as it has on the hardware side.
While the Consumer Electronics Show isn't just a computer and video games exhibition, the newer technologies almost have eclipsed their predecessors, such as stereo equipment and video cassette recorders. However, the new compact audio disc, which plays music that is recorded digitally in computer-like fashion, is reportedly doing very well.