A Quick History...
The Dragon 32 hit the market in August 1982 - a product from "Dragon Data", a subsidiary of Mettoy, the Swansea based toy manufacturer, famous for the Corgi die-cast metal toy cars.
Mettoy were in financial difficulties and had been watching the fast growing home computer market carefully and noticed that children were also a growing interest in the new technology. They suspected that children would be turning to computers for play and away from the traditional toys that had made the company famous.
Aware that the home computer market was about to take off as Sinclair and Acorn struggled to meet the high demand, Mettoy had formed Dragon Data in an attempt to diversify its business, initially to process data for smaller companies. It was Dragon Data who would lead the company into the home computer market.
However, it had to work very quickly indeed in a bold bid to be ready for the Christmas 1982 demand - Dragon's plan was hatched...
Time pressures meant that Dragon simply didn't have the time to develop its own BASIC interpreter so it selected Microsoft's version as an "off-the-shelf" solution. However, that limited the choice of possible processors the new machine could use.
The development team selected the Mototolla 6809E, partly because it was technically superior to the popular 6502 and Z80A, but more importantly (time wise) it was readily available with a set of support chips. What also helped was that Tandy - producers of the 6809 based TRS-80 Color Computer - had already done all the groundwork.
Their machine also used Microsoft BASIC and the "ready-to-use" components and reference design. It was also well tested as by then it was already two years old. It hadn't however sold well - even though it was promoted as a games machine. This was possibly because it was only available from Tandy's own stores and was priced at a whopping £499.
The Dragon 32
So, the Dragon 32 was almost a clone of the Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer.
It was based around the same Motorola MC6809E processor and associated Motorola video and memory IC's. The keyboard layout and many of the ports were also the same as the TRS-80. However, it wasn't just a clone - it improved on the design with 32K of RAM, Microsoft's Extended Color BASIC (rather than standard Color BASIC), replaced the serial port with a parallel port and fitted a professional, full travel keyboard.
Aimed primarily to compete with the Sinclair Spectrum 48K (the Commodore 64 was much more expensive and seen as a different market segment), it was launched at exactly the same price point. Compared side by side, it seemed vastly superior with its proper keyboard, robust case, far superior BASIC and faster processor.
Initial sales of the Dragon 32 were strong and in the first six months, around 40,000 machines were sold, mainly through a high-street agreement with Boots. These strong sales sparked interest from other high-street stores producing another peak in demand and manufacturing was moved to a larger factory in Port Talbot.
However, a failure to predict a perhaps obvious sales drop in spring and summer led to high stocks building. New competitors also appeared and Sinclair slashed its pricing of the Spectrum.
It was at this point of higher competition and lower pricing that the flaws in the Dragon's design really started to have an effect upon sales.
In the home computer market, games were the most significant driver and it is here that the Dragon suffered.
It had a far superior processor to the Spectrum (whose market segment was Dragon's primary target) plus twin analogue joystick ports, a colour monitor socket and a cartridge slot, its graphics capabilities was in fact inferior to the Spectrum, BBC and Commodore 64 which was the first "nail in the coffin".
At high resolution it could only display two colours (black & white or black & green) and couldn't display text and graphics together. These weaknesses resulted n games with garish, bright green or white background screens which compared badly to other computers of the time. There was also the issue that programmers were not familiar with the 6809 processor making software houses reluctant to allocate programming time to a unique machine where porting to other platforms was very difficult.
A second major issue was the commercial and educational markets.
Although it had an excellent, professional keyboard and standard centronics printer port, the Dragon could not display lower-case letters easily which also locked out most of the quickly growing educational market - the second "nail in the coffin".
The Dragon 64
Two years on from the launch of the Dragon 32, Dragon Data released the Dragon 64 - a virtually identical machine, but with 64K of RAM, an RS232C port and minor changes to the ROM. However, the higher price failed to wow the buying public...
When sales of the Dragon 64 failed to take off, Dragon Data responded by announcing two new machines - the Dragon 128 and the Dragon Professional, but in July 1984, before either machine appeared, Dragon Data ran out of cash and called in the receivers.
Stores quickly slashed the prices to offload stock and some attractive bundles became available for as little as £80!
Software houses quickly dropped development resources for the machine...
... the Dragon had died.