TI-99 Home Computer Timeline

Bill Gaskill

part 3 of 4

1982 would turn out to be a year of mixed blessings for TI and for the Home Computer. Through William J. Turner's outrageous projections, his continued ability to get Mark Shepherd and Fred Bucy to authorize price decreases and rebate programs for the 99/4A and through his ability to recruit more and more retailers to carry the Home Computer, Turner was able to paint a false picture of hope that led Texas Instruments to believe the fortunes of the TI-99/4A were turning around.

As almost any article you find will point out, TI was a company of engineers who lacked any feel whatsoever for marketing. Turner was the marketer and his methods seemed to be working, so he was given his head to do whatever it took to get the bottom line up. For a while he did that, but on price alone, and it was ultimately price that cost the 99/4 its life. The competition, which was mainly Commodore's VIC-20, could be built for under $70. It cost more than $100 to build a 99/4A.

JAN 1982: Texas Instruments announces the release of the Peripheral Expansion Box at the Consumer Electronics Show on January 7th. While it is an improvement over the chained peripherals that plagued the 99/4, the price of the P-Box with a disk controller, RS232, 32K Memory and one SS/SD disk drive is a whopping $1474.75. To make matters worse, it was in very short supply, so the Home Computer owners willing to pay the price still had a difficult time getting one.

- Scott, Foresman releases the School Management Applications software system developed in conjunction with Edusystems Incorporated of St. Paul, Minnesota.

FEB 1982: "Introduction to TI Basic" book by Zamora and Albrecht is released.

- Texas Instruments announces the impending release of the new Value Packs.

- The much maligned "Munchman Plan" is announced by TI. This was a sales incentive program that ran from February 1982 until May 1982. The Plan required a user to purchase any three existing Solid State Software Command Modules or one major hardware peripheral in order to receive Munchman. Proof-of-purchase certificates were issued to retailers who were required to give them to customers meeting the Plan requirements. Customers then had to mail the certificate to TI in order to receive their free copy of Munchman.

MAR 1982: TI retailers begin receiving shipments of Editor/Assembler on March 16th that were promised for the third week in January. TI advises its retailers that Mini Memory will begin shipping the last week of March.

- Eleven new Software Libraries are released. They include: Home Financial Manager, Family Entertainer, Elementary Educator, Music Educator, Super Programmer, Speaking Math Teacher, Speaking Reading Teacher, Arcade Games and Computer Introductory Package.

- Reading Fun and Personal Report Generator are released.

APR 1982: Reading Roundup and Tunnels of Doom are released.

- The International 99/4 Users Group raises its membership rates and creates the President's Club as an alternative to regular membership status.

- The street price of a 99/4A is now down to $329.95.

MAY 1982: Electronics and Computing Magazine places a 12-page TI-99/4A supplement in its May issue.

- Texas Instruments offers a free spreadsheet program called Freeform, written by Aardvark Software, with the purchase of the new p-Code system.

- TI begins a new promotion on May 15th. They offer a free TexNet subscription to anyone purchasing a modem, RS232 and Terminal Emulator II cartridge between May 15th and October 16th, 1982.

- The unpopular Munchman Plan is discontinued.

- TI and Epson reach an agreement whereby TI will be allowed to put their name on the Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer and market it as the TI Impact Printer.

- TI LOGO II is introduced featuring a 3-tone sound generator and sprites.

JUN 1982: William J. Turner succeeds in hiring Bill Cosby as the ad campaign spokesman for the Home Computer. It costs TI $1 million a year, but Advertising Age magazine has recently named Cosby the most trusted of all pitchmen.

- Impending releases for Computer Math Games II and VI, the Scholastic Spelling Series, the Milliken Math Sequences, Multiplan, TI Writer, Aardvark's Personal Tax Plan, Chisolm Trail and Parsec are announced at the Consumer Electronics Show.

- In a move that in retrospect appears consistent with the beginning of TI's September 1982 mass merchandising strategy, TI closes six of their TISCO (TI Supply Company) retail outlets.

- Commodore announces the Commodore 64 computer.

JUL 1982: A New York marketing firm conducts a survey which shows that TI is losing shelf space to the Commodore VIC-20 in the Toys 'R Us, K-Mart, Woolco and Montgomery Ward stores surveyed.

- Despite its January 1982 release, TI's Peripheral Expansion Box and the cards sold for use with it remain in short supply, angering dealers and frustrating owners.

- TI initiates the Product Support Representative program.

- William J. Turner is appointed Vice President of the Consumer Products Group over Don Bynum.

AUG 1982: Texas Instruments fires the first volley in the Home Computer Price Wars by announcing on August 2nd that beginning September 1st, they will offer a $100 rebate towards the purchase of the $299 Home Computer. TI is thought to have 26% of the home computer market at the time. Mistake #4 according to Joseph Nocera.

- On August 16th Commodore International fires a return volley in the price war by cutting the wholesale price of the VIC-20 by $40. The VIC-20 is selling for $199 and is the flagship of Commodore's 23% of the home computer market.

- TI Writer and Parsec are released.

- Timex Sinclair jumps into the home computer fray with the $99 TS 1000. Timex is estimated to have a 26% share of the market based mostly on sales of their ZX-80 machine.

SEP 1982: Atari enters the price wars by offering $60 worth of discounts on its extensive library of educational and entertainment software, while pointing out that their machine runs the popular arcade games like Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders. Atari has 17% of the home computer market at this time.

- The tactic of mass merchandising enters the Home Computer Wars as the now inexpensive machines begin popping up in an amazingly wide variety of shops. Customers can find them in supermarkets, drug stores, catalog showrooms, boutiques and department stores. Toys 'R Us, the largest toy chain in the U.S., did not carry a single computer in 1981, but now has floor to ceiling displays of Atari, Commodore and Texas Instruments machines in all of its 144 stores. Safeway stores are offering Commodore computers in 12 stores from Seattle to Anchorage. Macy's will sell 1,000 Timex machines in four days in September 1982.

- TI begins the $100 rebate campaign on the 99/4A console that was announced in August. The rebate promotion is slated to end January 31, 1983. In another promotional TI offers a free Speech Synthesizer to anyone purchasing six Solid State Software Command Modules between September 15, 1982 and January 1, 1983.

- The Computer Advantage Club is introduced.

- Control Data Corporation announces that it produce PLATO Courseware for a variety of microcomputers. It has formerly only been available on main frame computers at an hourly fee for its use.

- Robert Peterson is installed as president of USUS, the UCSD Pascal Users Society, in Dallas, Texas.

OCT 1982: The 99er Magazine TI-FEST takes place in San Francisco on the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of October. Later word on the first and only Texas Instruments supported "Fest" is that it is a success. No one mentions how much money TI pumped into the Gary Kaplan idea to keep it from becoming a failure and potential embarassment to TI however.

- TI Forth makes its first showing at the TI-Fest.

NOV 1982: Texas Instruments obtains exclusive rights to distribute the TI Count line of accounting software for the 99/4A.

- A free hotline is opened for prospective customers to find out where they may purchase the 99/4A, or to take orders for the system directly from Texas Instruments.

- 99er Magazine goes monthly.

- Rumors of an upcoming 99/4A E.T. game cartridge surface in the IUG newsletter.

DEC 1982: The $100 rebate plan announced in August is extended to April 15, 1983.

- Super Bugger is purchased from Navarone Industries.

- Model Masters announces Disk Manager 2 on disk with promises of a cartridge version to follow shortly.

- Myarc introduces 5 and 10 megabyte hard disks for the 99/4A.

By the end of 1982 the TI-99/4A is the number one home computer in America. William J. Turner's $100 rebate strategy has been working like a charm since September and 99/4As are outselling VIC-20s at a rate of three to one. TI is producing 150,000 consoles a month and there are now over 12,000 retail outlets selling the computers. Things look great for TI and Turner, but as we know, it didn't last.

JAN 1983: Commodore cuts the price of the VIC-20 to $125. TI is forced to follow suit with the 99/4A. With this round of price reductions the Home Computer is now being sold at breakeven prices. TI realizes no profit on the sale of a unit at all.

- TI releases a 220 page software directory for $8.95 (part #1049749-1) that lists all known TI and third-party software written for the TI-99.

- The Compact Computer 40 and the TI-99/2 Basic Computer are announced at the Consumer Electronics show.

- Compute! magazine begins carrying TI-99/4A articles, programs and advertisments.

- Scott, Foresman and Company releases the Mathematics Action Game Series. The series consisted of three cartridges (each sold separately) with two programs per cartridge, housed in a 9"x6" vinyl book. The cartridges were referred to as Module A, B and C. Module A consisted of Frog Jump/Picture Parts, Module B consisted of Pyramid Puzzler/Star Maze and Module C consisted of Number Bowling/Space Journey. Each module sold for $75.95.

FEB 1983: Shipments of 99/4As are halted when an apparent defect is discovered in power supplies shipped with the Home Computer. TI loses $50 million fixing the problem. The power supply was one that TI bought from another company and it had passed safety tests in the U.S., but not in Canada.

- TI releases its own cassette player/recorder for use with the 99/4A. Actually, it was a GE product, but it carried a Texas Instruments name and logo.

- Datamost of Chatsworth, California begins advertising for TI-99/4A programmers and it lists the 99/4A as one of several computers which will have the popular Zaxxon game written for it.

- Thorn EMI announces Submarine Commander and River Rescue cartridges for the 99/4A, to be released in the Spring.

- Milton Bradley announces that the MBX Voice Recognition System will be available in April.

MAR 1983: Microsoft Multiplan is released.

- Datamost cancels plans to port Zaxxon to the 99/4A saying that it could not fit the program in an 8K Grompack module and it did not feel there were enough 99/4A disk systems in existence to justify a release of the program on disk. The Grompack excuse seems rather weak however as Zaxxon would ultimately be ported to the Atari 2600 VCS and other game playing machines which had no more (and in most cases even less) memory than the TI-99/4A.

- Texas Instruments offers their new Disk Manager 2 cartridge to owners of the original Disk Manager for $9.95. They apparently bought the program from Model Masters.

- TI offers a free console dust cover and cartridge holder to current Computer Advantage Club members who enroll in a second class between March 1st and July 31st.

- Don Bynum is reassigned to TI's Dallas headquarters due to health problems attributed to the stress of life in the Home Computer Division.

- Sears stores are added to the 99/4A retail network.

APR 1983: On April 4th Commodore cuts the price of the VIC-20 to $99, which is less than it costs to produce the 99/4A. Since TI cannot follow suit they begin losing sales to the VIC-20 because consumers, not knowing any better, and not being told any differently by TI, opt for the less powerful VIC-20 on price alone.

- On April 25th TI begins offering a free Peripheral Expansion Box to anyone purchasing any three of the following: an RS232 card, a Disk Controller card, a Disk Drive, a 32K Memory Expansion card, a p-Code card, TI Writer or Multiplan.

- At TI's annual meeting, J. Fred Bucy announces that TI has shipped it millionth Home Computer. He also announces that the $50 million power supply problem with the Home Computer has wiped out all profits made by 99/4A sales during the first quarter 1983.

- Retailers begin sending TI-99/4A's "back" to TI in order to make room for other items on their shelves. The walls are beginning to crumble.

- Mark Shepherd and J. Fred Bucy replace William J. Turner with Jerry Junkins. Turner has become a "loser" at TI and would leave the company just before the decision to drop out of the home computer business.

MAY 1983: Plans to produce the TI-99/2 Basic Computer are canceled when prices for the 99/4A drop below the projected sales price of the 99/2.

- Bill Cosby is dropped as the ad campaign spokesman for the Home Computer

- In its premier issue, the IUG's Enthusiast 99 magazine reports that the rumored E.T. game cartridge has been officially scrapped after Atari beats TI to market with their version of the same game.

- On May 6th, TI and Control Data Corporation reach an agreement that allows TI to secure the rights to 108 of the 430 PLATO Courseware titles. Part of the agreement allows Control Data Corporation to put their name on TI's Peripheral Expansion System and market it as the CDC Education Center.

- TI cancels plans to produce MECC's (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) series of Extended Basic coded educational programs. They cite duplication of product theme as the reason. I contacted MECC recently to see if anyone there remembered the TI-99 agreement and discovered that only one current employee worked for the company in 1983, and she doesn't remember anything about it.

Interestingly enough, in the many phone calls and letters to Texas Instruments over the last two years, I've been told several times that hardly anyone who was involved in the Home Computer in the early 1980's works at TI anymore. I suppose it's like a bad memory that no one wants to be reminded of?

- TI drops the $100 rebate campaign when the retail price of the 99/4A falls to $149.95, but they replace it with a new $50 rebate program on May 15th.

- The Disk Manager 2 cartridge begins shipping with all new disk controller cards sold.

Go to Part 4

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