When Texas Instruments announced its new personal computer at the Consumer Electronics Show, other players in the home computer market started shaking. Texas was the world's major chip manufacturer, it was also well known to the general public for its watches and calculators. Moreover, the new machine would be the first home computer to use a 16-bit microprocessor.
In fact, the TI-99/4 didn't meet US radio frequency regulations, so it was only really released in quantity in early 1980 along with a specific T.I. colour monitor. It was a robust machine, well-manufactured, enclosed in a nice plastic and metal case. However, it suffered from three major faults:
• Its "chicklet-like" keyboard did not allowed fast typing,
• Its BASIC, not written in assembly language, was very slow,
• Its price, $1150, was practically the same as the new Apple II+.
Although T.I. also released several original peripherals - a floppy disc interface, a serial interface, a speech Synthesizer, a thermal printer and joysticks - along with much software on solid-state cartridges, the TI-99/4 was a commercial flop, mainly because of the price war with Commodore and its VIC-20. T.I. tried to sell the machine in the European market, but it arrived too late, about the same time as the TI-99/4A was lauched in the USA, so very few models were sold.
In 1982, the price was dropped from $1150 to $500, and T.I. launched the TI-99/4A which resolved all of the major problems of the original model, better keyboard and faster Basic. But in the meantime, other manufacturers, including some Far East companies, had launched cheap machines and T.I was obliged to sell its TI-99 at a loss. Moreover, due to the specific microprocessor and hardware configuration, very few third-party companies wrote software and designed peripherals for the TI-99.
T.I. still sold the TI-99 for a further two years. A third version with a beige plastic case was even launched. In 1984, T.I. finally decided to withdraw for good from the home computer business. Last TI-99's were sold for about $100 by second-hand dealers.
Pictures, courtesy of the excellent site TI-99 Forever!