TI-99 Home Computer Timeline

Bill Gaskill

part 2 of 4

JAN 1980: The FCC grants TI a waiver on its RF modulator, which failed to pass FCC muster in early 1979 because Texas Instruments did not send the entire unit in to be tested. The waiver allows the TI-99/4 Home Computer to be sold without the expensive monitor that TI was forced to bundle with it because of the RF modulator troubles. In response to the FCC decision TI conducts an extensive advertising blitz to put the 99/4 in the consumer eye. Unfortunately, production problems continue to haunt the Home Computer for the first few months of 1980 and TI is selling fewer than 1000 units per month.

MAR 1980: TI has turned out fewer than 30 pieces of software for the 99/4. Although their policy of locking out third-party developers has not yet been articulated, the lack of an Editor/Assembler package for the Home Computer pretty much says it all. This is Mistake #3 according to Joseph Nocera. The only way to write programs for the TI-99/4 is to buy one of TI's $50,000 minicomputers, which is what their in-house programmers use for cartridge program creation. In fact, even after the release of an Editor/Asembler package, programmers at TI continued to use minicomputers. During the entire life of the TI-99/4 and 4A, Hopper was the only cartridge program ever developed internally using the TI-99 Home Computer.

The existence of the secretive GPL (Graphics Programming Language) has not yet become common knowledge among the computer community, but it will eventually surface and add another nail to the coffin of an already sick reputation the TI-99/4 is earning.

- Creative Computing magazine calls the TI-99/4 "One of the most easy to use systems we've tested...price still beyond the grasp of Middle America."

APR 1980: TI releases Disk Drive Controller PHP 1800 and Disk Memory Drive PHP 1850 for $299.95 and $499.95 respectively. This release comes ten months after the computer was announced! Would you, or did you pay over $1000 for a computer that lacked any storage capability? Before you answer, don't forget that there was no cassette recorder offered for the 99/4 yet either. In fact, TI didn't offer their own cassette recorder until the 1st quarter of 1983!

MAY 1980: Bill Hawkins reviews the TI-99/4 in Popular Science magazine on page 10, along with the Atari 800 and a virtually unknown cartridge using computer named the APF Imagination Machine from APF of 444 Madison Avenue New York, NY. Although Hawkins is critical of the $1150 price of the 99/4 (TI has still not dropped the price because there are so many console/monitor bundles in dealer inventories), he raves about the computer's Speech Synthesizer peripheral, and mentions the little known PHA 2500 Speech Modules designed to increase the vocabulary of the the early Speech Synthesizers.

- TI hires William J. Turner away from Digital Equipment and charges him with creating a marketing plan that will move the TI-99/4 Home Computer off the shelves of retailers and into the homes of consumers.

JUN 1980: Radio Shack Executive VP John Roach brings down the house at a brokerage house seminar when from the podium he points to a demo model of the 99/4 and quips, "I'm sure glad somebody brought a TI computer here today. It's only the second one I've seen--and the first was when they launched it at the Consumer Electronics Show last June."

- New England Electronics, one of the top 10 personal computer distributors in the U.S., stops carrying the 99/4 after only nine months as a distributor. It tries to help its dealers by shifting 99/4s from the many stores where they are gathering dust to the few stores that have found a way to move the Home Computer.

- The June 16, 1980 issue of Fortune magazine says, "...TI has managed to exclude itself from the business and professional market (with the 99/4). It designed the system in a way that makes it difficult (more like impossible) for small, independent companies to write programs or make peripheral gear that can be used on the 99/4."

An unnamed TI engineer states that some of TI's top managers saw the 99/4 as their "private electronic fantasy" in explaining how the 99/4 survived when two other TI projects, the 99/7 business computer and the professional/scientific computer were both canceled. It is reported that the professional/scientific computer died for lack of funds when the Consumer Products Group was allowed to bleed off funds from the professional model's budget in order to speed up the introduction of the 99/4, which had fallen behind schedule.

The same article reports that distributors were so impressed with the TI-99/7 business computer that some agreed to take on stocks of the 99/4 just to get at the TI-99/7. Despite this, internal competition and squabbling killed the 99/7 whne Shepherd and Bucy decided TI could not afford to fund the 99/7, the professional/scientific computer and the 99/4 Home Computer. As a former TI employee put it, "They threw away two pieces of gold and kept the lump of coal." in opting to continue with the development of the 99/4.

- Commodore Business Machines introduces the VIC-20 at a retail price of $299. The VIC-20 is a dismal machine that is easily outperformed by the TI-99, but marketing mistakes keep TI from ever taking advantage of the Home Computer's technological advantages. The VIC-20 will become the arch enemy of the TI-99 in the price wars that will begin in the Fall of 1982. Getting into a price war with Commodore are Mistake #4 according to Joseph Nocera.

JUL 1980: Texas Instruments hires 150 college students for the Summer to convert popular software written for other computers to the 99/4 format.

- The Houston, Texas TI Users Group (TI-HUG) is formed by Raymond Wells, becoming the first known TI-99/4 Users Group.

AUG 1980: The Author Incentive program is instituted by TI in an effort to get more application programs written for the 99/4. TI also begins publishing the Home Computer Users newsletter.

- On August 12th, Charles LaFara sends a letter to all known 99/4 users and dealers announcing his intention to start the 99/4 Home Computer Users Group.

SEP 1980: LaFara incorporates the 99/4 Home Computer Users Group in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In its four and one-half year life the organization will move to larger headquarters in Bethany, Oklahoma, it will produce a respected newsletter, and a professional 99/4 specific magazine, it will grow to a claimed membership of over 100,000 users and then ultimately it will file for bankruptcy and breathe its last gasp of life in April 1985.

- The Chicago TI Users Group is formed by Jerry Strauss.

OCT 1980: Texas Instruments replaces 26 advertising agencies with one agency when it hires New York's McCann-Erickson Inc.

- In a letter to dealers in the United Kingdom, TI announces that an extended GROM is under development for the Home Computer, but that memory expansion for the 99/4 is not planned. The letter points out that no interaction between BASIC and the console GROMs is possible, though that proves not to be true for the Personal Record Keeping and Statistics cartridges. Dutch 99er Paul Karis will uncover this secret almost a year later when he publishes an article on the hidden secrets of the PRK module in the TIHome TIdings newsletter.

NOV 1980: TI finally drops the price of the 99/4 on November 28th a full $300 to $650, a move that was first promised for the Summer of 1980.

DEC 1980: SourceWorld Magazine, a monthly publication of The Source on-line information service, reports that Texas Instruments has plans to begin a TI sponsored Special Interest Group (SIG) called TexNet on their service. No date is given for TexNet availability.

- In a products price list sent to retailers, TI announces 38 new hardware and software products for the 99/4 that are scheduled to be available during the first quarter of 1981. This would turn out to be one of the two largest mass-releases of Home Computer products that TI would announce during the life of the Home Computer. The other would occur during the second and third quarters of 1983, but by then it was too little, too late.

JAN 1981: On January 5th, TI releases prototype models of Extended Basic and 32K Memory Expansion to selected users for testing. A year and a half AFTER the TI-99 is announced to the world, TI finally gets around to beta testing OPTIONAL products that some of the competition comes with as standard equipment! To make matters worse, the actual availability of these two items for the masses is still more than 6 months away.

FEB 1981: TI releases the 10" Panasonic made color monitor PHA 4100 to replace the 13" Zenith monitor PHA 4000 that was originally released with the 99/4. The Zenith monitor retailed for $450 when sold separately. The new monitor sells for $374.95 at the time of release, but TI will raise the price on it to $399.95 in 1982.

- 99ers in England are told of the impending release of a Value Added Tax program in cartridge form, but it never appears. The program would surface on disk in 1988 in GRAM format.

- Pewterware of Gulf Breeze, Florida announces the release of Decathelon and Challenge Poker games on cassette.

MAR 1981: Texas Instruments announces the impending release of UCSD Pascal for the 99/4.

APR 1981: Charles Ehninger of Fort Worth, Texas, who would found Futura Software, wins first prize in the Author Incentive Program with his Home Inventory program.

- TI Logo is introduced on April 17th and is made available to qualified school districts. It is not available to the general public.

- Delays in the release of Extended Basic and 32K Memory are announced.

MAY 1981: 99er Magazine publishes it first issue.

- The Cin-Day Users Group and TISHUG Users Groups are formed, Cin-Day by Larry Morrow in the Cincinnati area, and TISHUG by Shane Anderson in Sydney, Australia.

- TI cuts 2,800 jobs from its semiconductor division after prices and demand for chips fall dramatically.

- The as yet released Extended Basic module is reviewed in Creative Computing and bugs are found that cause TI to push the release date back further than anticipated.

JUN 1981: TI drops out of the digital watch and magnetic bubble memory business in order to conserve cash in a market where chip prices are depressed and the cost of capital is inflated. While TI was the last U.S. semiconductor maker to manufacture digital watches, it was losing $10 million a year doing so, thus the move was seen as a wise one. The decision to drop the bubble memory business, which only TI and Rockwell International were involved in, came as a complete surprise to most analysts. Texas Instruments had sunk between $50-100 million into bubble memory technology over the last 10 years and seemed destined to stay with it since bubble memory promised to be a cheap and reliable replacement for mechanical rotating disc memories.

- J. Fred Bucy appoints long time TIer and Senior Vice President Grant A. Dove as TI's top marketing official (yawn). Dove spreads the gospel of "marketing" among the troops and immediately decides to increase radio and television advertising a mere $10 million.

- In a move explainable only by insiders, TI announces the Fall 1981 introduction of a digital watch line just two days after telling the world that it will be totally out of the digital watch business by the end of the year.

- The TI-99/4A Home Computer is announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago at a suggested retail price of $525 for the console only. Additional releases are TI LOGO to the general public, TexNet, Editor/Assembler, Terminal Emulator II and Addition and Subtraction 1.

- When the 99/4A is announced, the Atari 400 is selling for $399 and the Atari 800 for $1080. Street prices though are $339.95 and $899.95 respectively. Mattel's Intellivision is available for $249.95 or $569.95 with the Keyboard Component that turns it into a home computer that is able to compete with Atari, Commodore and TI. On the high end of the spectrum, the Apple II+ is selling for $1275 and the new Apple III can be had for a mere $3200.

TI's own Touch & Tell, Speak & Read, Speak & Math and Speak & Spell learning aids are selling like hotcakes for between $49.95 and $59.95 each. The TI-59 programmable calculator, which now sports over a dozen Solid State Software modules, can be had for $199.95 street price. TI digital watches are now 40-50% off their suggested retail price since TI's announcement that they would be abandoning the wristwatch market. Their top of the line Model 8012 gold tone, which sold for $110.00 originally, can now be purchased for less that $60.

- While announcing further delays in the release of Extended Basic, TI does announce the release of Cash Management PHD 5029.

- TI announces that by early 1982 there will be over 1,000 programs for the 99/4A Home Computer. TI also adds 300 new members to its retail network, a move that is critical to William J. Turner's strategy of mass marketing.

- JC Penney agrees to carry the 99/4A in its Fall catalog where it will enjoy exclusive coverage since Penney's does not carry any other computers at the time.

- Denali Data of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma introduces a joystick adapter that allows Atari joysticks to be used on the Home Computer.

JUL 1981: Epson introduces Graphtrax for the MX-80 printer.

- The 99/4A appears on the Mike Douglas Show during the week of July 6th. Representatives from Texas Instruments and students from the Lamplighter School in Dallas demonstrate TI Logo and other educational applications. Guest hosts on the show, Darrel Dragon and Toni Tenille, better known as the Captain and Tenille, hear their hit "Love Will Keep Us Together" sung by the 99/4 with a Speech Synthesizer attached.

- Texas Instruments introduces the Video Controller PHP 1290 peripheral which plugs into the I/O port on the right side of the console.

AUG 1981: Structural Engineering Library and Teach Yourself Extended Basic are released.

- TexNet on The Source is announced by TI in the Personal Computer Users Newsletter.

- The 99/4 Home Computer Users Group offers Texpacs in support of the upcoming initiation of TexNet on The Source. Texpacs are three different hardware and software packages that will allow the user to access TexNet.

SEP 1981: Hustle is released.

- The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Users Group meeting of September 20th features a large display and presentation all put on by representatives from Texas Instruments. Demonstrations of TexNet, TI Logo and the soon to be available Editor/Assembler package are given.

- Invoice Management, and Electrical Engineering Library are released.

OCT 1981: Blasto, Terminal Emulator II and Yahtzee are released.

- Financial problems continue to plague TI dimming the glow of the company who had been the darling of 1970s corporate America. TI reports a 55% drop in profits over the last year, a 3% reduction in its work force and a 50% drop in the price of its stock, which has gone from $150 per share in 1980 to $75 a share in 1981.

- On October 9th Texas Instruments sends the following letter to registered 99/4 and 4A users in the Southern California area.

"Join the Orange County TI-99/4 User's Group on Saturday October 17, for an afternoon with the management of TI. Mr. Don Bynum, the Personal Computer Division Manager, and Mr. Brian Gratz, User's Group Coordinator for TI, will present the program.

Highlight of the afternoon will be demonstrations of the Editor/Assembler package, Text-to-Speech, Logo and some exciting future entertainment packages.

The meeting is scheduled to be held at 1:00pm in the Cafe Ricard room of the Airporter Inn, 18700 McArthur Blvd., Irvine. Join us for an afternoon with Texas Instruments.

- Charles LaFara changes the name of the 99/4 Home Computer Users Group to the International 99/4 Users Group and moves company headquarters to Bethany, Oklahoma.

- Production problems continue to plague Extended Basic, making the new cartridge difficult if not impossible to get.

- TexNet on The Source goes on line on October 23rd. It would flourish for 3-4 years but ultimately founder due to cost, slow operation of the 300 baud limitations of Terminal Emulator II and the lack of the more standard Xmodem protocol for downloading.

TexNet offered color graphics and animation on line, music and sound effects, an extensive library of programs and state of the art synthetic speech. Services and features included a News Section, Voice Chat using the Speech Synthesizer, a Software Library, a dictionary of phonetic words for text-to-speech, a software directory, listings of User Groups, a graphics library, a music and sound library, a section on help, a Logo exchange and more. Sign up fee was $100 and $7.75 per hour weeknights and weekends 6-12pm, then $5.75 per hour from 12-7am. At its startup, The Source boasted over 350 local access telephone numbers for users.

- Draw Poker, Bridge Bidding II, and Terminal Emulator II are released.

NOV 1981: Adventure, Car Wars, TI Invaders and Tombstone City are released.

DEC 1981: In a Business Week article on TI's inability to crack the personal computer market, a computer analyst for the Arthur D. Little consulting firm observes, "The 99/4 is neither fish nor fowl". The comment refers to the 99/4's position as a computer which is not powerful enough for the high end business user, but that is also too expensive for the low-end home market.

- TI phases out the little known PHA 2500 Speech Modules designed to add vocabulary to the Speech Synthesizer and begins packaging a small 4" x 6.5" notice saying so (part # 1043624-1) with the Speech Editor and Speech Synthesizer instruction manuals.


Speech Editor and Speech

Synthesizer Owner's Manuals


Please disregard any references in your manual to Plug-In Speech Modules that can supplement the Speech Synthesizer's resident vocabulary. These references are no longer applicable


(Use with 1037109-111 and 1037110-1)

- Texas Instruments begins to add customer support staff as computer sales pick up during the Christmas season. Marketer William J. Turner is having an effect on the sales volume of the Home Computer by finding ways to bring its price to the consumer down.

Go to Part 3

Home | Site Map | Search | Contact/E-mail | Link To The HCP | FAQ | Newsletter | FREE 99er Web Site | FREE 99er Email | Privacy