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The History Of Handic Electronic
by Taper/Triad

For Swedish sceners and Commodore 64 fans, the company Handic will always have a special nostalgic appeal. Handic, or rather Handic Electronic AB, was Commodore's general agent and exclusive importing partner for Sweden during some very important years in the early 80s. Those early years turned out to be totally defining for Commodore's success story in Sweden, and it was Handic who laid the foundation. But let's rewind a bit and start from the beginning...

In the late 1970's a company named Datatronic was selling mini computers, main frames and business computers to Swedish customers. In those pioneering days computers were not the out-of-the-box commodoties that we are used to nowadays. So, beside sales staff, Datatronic had technicians and programmers to help customers actually get proper use from the systems they had invested in. Datatronic was in its turn owned by the German company Diehl, which suddenly ran into a serious cash flow problems. Subsequently, Diehl wanted to shut down Datronic operations. However, some of the employees had faith in the business and brought in a management consultant to help them buy the company from Diehl instead.

After negotiations Diehl actually agreed to sell Datatronic to the handful of employees for one Swedish crown, with the condition that they kept all the employees onboard. This was the start of the "new" Datatronic.

Shortly after, the Swedish Commodore PET importer at the time was going bankrupt. Datatronic was offered to buy their remaining inventory of 50 PET machines. With the PETs in store, Datatronic developed an accounting program, a salary program and a billing system and bundled the computer with this software and a printer. All the systems were sold in just three months, which was quite good considering the market for computers was still in its infancy.

Jack Tramiel and Chuck Peddle at Commodore liked the ambition of this small Swedish firm and noticed their effort, and even if they didn't offer Datatronic exclusive importing status, they let Datatronic continue to sell PET machines.

In 1980, as the VIC 20 was about to be introduced, Datatronic bought another company named Handic. Handic sold consumer electronics and might be described as a miniature Radio Shack. The plan was to let Datatronic handle business computers (like the PET), and let the new daughter company Handic handle the coming consumer computers, like the VIC. This time Commodore granted Handic status as the sole legal importer of VIC 20 computers to Sweden.

As this article is about consumer computers, it's time to leave Datatronic behind for a while and concentrate on Handic. One more thing needs to be said about Datatronic first, though. A few years down the line, Chuck Peddle had left Commodore because of clashing with Jack Tramiel. While Tramiel wanted Commodore to focus on consumer products, Peddle wanted to pursue the next generation computer aimed at the business segment instead. Peddle quitted Commodore and started developing Sirius 1, a 16-bit computer with 128k of memory. Then he merged his new business with the calculator company Victor. However, Victor also ran into cash flow problems, and Chuck Peddle approached Datatronic for help. Ironically, Datatronic actually ended up buying Victor. The Sirius 1 (or Victor 9000 as it was called in Europe) became a success among technically minded people as it was very advanced for its time. But eventually it succumbed to the IBM-standard, and thus Datatronic/Victor started selling PC-clones instead. But that's a different story...

Enough about the business segment! Meanwhile at the Handic subsidiare, VIC 20 computers were sold to eager Swedish computer enthusiasts like butter melting in the sun. Beside computers, Handic also sold accessories like datasette recorders, joysticks, cables, games and programs, the latter mostly on cartridges. Most of these programs were also translated into Swedish and Handic was added before the name, like "Handic MON" and "Handic Calc".

During the very early 80s, several computer systems tried to gain a foothold among the Swedish consumers. Commodore's computers had fierce rivals like Sinclair (Spectrum 16k and 48k models), Texas Instruments (TI99/4A), Dragon (Dragon 32), Sord (Sord 5), Spectravideo (SVI 318), Microprofessor (MPF-I) and Atari (Atari 400 and 800). Among all these competing systems and resellers, Handic would soon stand out as the most successful, in no small part due to the aggresive price policy provided by Commodore.

To strike at the competing systems, Commodore decided to slash the price of the VIC 20 to their resellers by as much as a third, demanding the resellers to reflect this pricecut to their end-costumers. The reason why Commodore could make such a cost-cut in the first place was because it owned their own chip manufacturer, MOS Technology, who manufactured the 6502 CPU and other chips needed to manufacture the VIC 20 in-house. Most other computer manufacturers at the time had to buy components on the open market, and sometimes even from MOS Technology (for instance, Atari relied on MOS or one of the MOS licensed chip factories to provide them with 6502 CPUs for their systems). As a result, the VIC 20 became the most affordable system in Sweden, and naturally gained quite a following, to the delight of Handic.

Of course, a VIC 20 could be obtained even cheaper in other countries, most notably in the USA and while some grey-import did occure, it didn't really hurt Handic economically. First of all, Swedes wanted PAL machines and not American NTSC ones, and the price difference between European countries like Germany, Sweden and UK were not as large as the one between the US and Europe. Secondly, grey-importers could not offer the same support and guarantees, something that most early computer buyers founded extremely important. Thus, grey importing was a minor problem.

Handic also did what they could to promote the VIC 20 (and later the VIC 64), some would argue they did a better job than the Swedish branch of Commodore once it was established. Handic adds could be seen in more or less all the Swedish computer magazines at the time, including leading magazines such as "Min Hemdator", "VIC Rapport" and "Svenska Hemdator Hacking". Sales were so good that Handic was even more well-known for Swedes than Commodore that actually manufactured the computers they sold!

When the Commodore 64 was released, Handic rebranded it to the VIC 64, to go in line with the successful sales of its predecessor. The VIC 64 now became Handic's flagship, while the VIC 20 was still being sold as a beginner's and budget computer. Unlike the VIC 20 which had to be adapted with an expansion kit to provide Swedes and Swedish speaking Finns with the Swedish characters, the VIC 64 sold by Handic was factory modified to incorporate the Swedish keyset from the beginning, and of course came with a translated manual. However, as time went by and Commodore tried to cut costs this came to a halt and all VIC 64s sold in Sweden from then on were English models, and thus had to be adapted with the Swedish kit afterwards.

Handic also manufactured and sold their own third-party accessories for the C64, such as printer interfaces, SuperBox64 (cartridge expander with IEEE488 interface), VIC REL (cartridge based relay which you could hook up to other electronic devices such as burglar alarms), and the VIC switch (a box that let you hook up 8 C64's to the same device (printer or disk drive).

However, things were going to change for Handic. The parent company Datatronic decided to take over the hardware part of the business, and let Handic only handle software. This led to a name shift from Handic Electronic to Handic Software.

Even though the VIC 64 was a huge hit, Datatronic was bleeding financially. Perhaps it had invested too much into the Victor 9000 computer after buying Victor, and when the IBM PC architecture won the battle of the business consumers they couldn't keep up. Either way, Datatronic folded (do we see a pattern here, people?), taking Handic with them in the fall.

In 1986, after the fall of Datatronic, Commodore finally established a Swedish subsidiary and started promoting and selling their of computers themselves, just like their sister subsidiaries around the world, for instance Commodore UK and Commodore Germany.

There is one more ironic twist to be told regarding Handic. In 1986, a Swedish import firm named Bergsala became the official Nintendo partner in Sweden, much in the same fashion as Handic used to be Commodore's sidekick. Bergsala aggresively marketed the NES and later SNES in the Scandinavian market, and even published their own magazine. Bergsala still enjoy this position today. Somewhere along the line, presumably many years after the demise of the original Handic, Bergsala acquired the rights to use the Handic name. Today, you can find LCD TV's and other home electronics by the name of Handic in Swedish supermarkets.

TAPER/TRIAD

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