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  1. Technology
March 15, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

When you remember that the Filofax was originally conceived in the 1920s, the fact that the ingenious Microwriter handheld text entry system that enables skilled users to generate all the letters of the alphabet using just five keys has not really caught on yet does not seem to damn the product after all – and Hambro Life Assurance co-founder Sir Mark Weinberg is still a firm believer. He has been associated with the product since the creation of Microwriter Ltd back in 1978, subscribing UKP715,438 for shares in the company in the intervening years, and has now put up another UKP100,000 for a successor company, Microwriter Systems Plc, formed as a legal device to acquire the business of Microwriter Ltd and raise up to UKP750,000 under the Business Expansion Scheme to launch the latest Microwriter. The new product, to be called AgendA, is much more than just a Microwriter: it is designed to be used as a personal organiser, and although it retains the five magic Microwriter keys, it hedges its bets by having a full set of alphabet buttons and calculator keys, although as it fits into a pocket, these are very small. The letters are also arranged alphabetically rather than in the Qwerty sequence. Due to be launched in the middle of the year, the AgendA will enter a market where Psion Plc, which just went public and saw its shares open at 105 pence and rise to 110p against a 97p placing price when trading started Monday, has a strong position with the Organiser II. Microwriter is also looking for a higher basic price for the AgendA – something in the region of UKP150, but the key additional feature on top of the filing system – notepad – appointments diary-calculator is that the thing can be used as a highly portable word processor, with the ability to output text onto a printer. It has a display of 20 characters by four lines, 32Kb of RAM that can be used for documents, and is less than three-quarters of an inch thick, and the length and breadth of a typical wallet. Personal 32Kb memory cards can also be exchanged, so that a secretary can update the diary on the office AgendA and transfer the updated card to the boss’ personal machine. Memory cards can also be used by travelling salespeople to ensure that they always have the latest price list in their machine, and can also be used for recording data from sales calls and onsite visits. As to those mysterious Microwriter keys, the company quotes a survey of 150 users selected at random by SRU Ltd, which found that 68% found it very easy to learn the key combinations that make up the letters of the alphabet, with 48% saying they learned them in two hours or less, 86% within three days. So by including the Microwriting keys on what is ostensibly simply a personal organiser, the company hopes to win thousands of converts to the Microwriting concept – which, needless to say, is patented – who will then be eager for new products from Microwriter. Struggle Unlike one or two Business Expansion Scheme prospectuses that have come our way, the company makes no bones about the struggle that Microwriter Ltd has had: accounts for 1983 through 1987 show that the highest turnover achieved was in 1983, when Microwriter lost UKP526,000 on sales of UKP738,000. Sales in 1984 were marginally down, but losses soared to UKP902,000 and by 1987, turnover had slumped to UKP89,000, on which the company made a UKP376,000 loss. Since Microwriter Systems is seeking only UKP750,000 – and is saving money by not using a sponsor, the prospectus is being circulated privately, and as it wants to keep the size of its share register down at this stage, it has set a minimum individual investment level of UKP2,500. Under the Business Expansion Scheme, individuals can get tax relief at their highest marginal rate on the full sum invested, provided that the shares are held for five years, and if the shares are sold after five years, profits are exempt from Capital Gains Tax.

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