Tomy was not above generating the usual marketing reality distortion field, but they certainly didn't cast it as well as Steve-O (Jobs) did. In the USA, this marketing field existed in two forms, namely, the Purcell Pamphlet and the Tomy Tutor Demonstration Cartridge. In this page dedicated to the marketing promise and the muddled reality, we'll see what Tomy claimed to have up its sleeve and what actually shook out of the shirt (boy was that a strained metaphor).
Last modify 26 January 2009.
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The "Purcell Pamphlet" was the marketing circular that Tomy distributed in America in 1983 featuring their pitchman, er, woman, Sarah Purcell. Ms. Purcell (1948-) is best known as a TV talk show host, particularly for The Better Sex, The Home Show and, during the years of the Tomy Tutor, Real People (read her Wikipedia entry). Since Tomy's shtick was to introduce the Tutor as a unique computer readily useable by good old fashioned normal people and kids, Purcell, the hostess of this highly popular NBC prime-time show (1979-1984, Wednesdays 8pm E/P) about good old fashioned normal people and kids with unique characteristics, was a logical and very well-placed choice. Her fee was not disclosed.
The Pamphlet also introduced Tomy's special trial deal in the United States to try to crack the home computer market that was now rapidly being taken over by Commodore. A full-money back guarantee for up to three days, it's unclear if it made any difference to sales, or how many returns occurred. Given the utter failure that Apple's later and somewhat similar "Test Drive A Macintosh" scheme was, I bet it was a flop.
Finally, the Pamphlet also introduced the entire line of Tomy peripherals, the major members of which (expansion box, disk drive, printer, etc.) turned out to be utter vapourware. In fact, the Pamphlet is the only place where high quality pictures of these particular doomed accessories can be seen, as there appears to be no evidence that they were introduced in Japan for the Pyuuta series.
Everything that is mentioned in the Purcell Pamphlet also has an entry in the Incomplete Catalogue.
"Now you can help your kids make their leap into the computer age.
And you don't even have to get your feet wet.
"If you're like me, on one hand you're convinced that computers are here to stay. And that their job is to make life easier. On the other hand, you wish they'd go away and stop complicating things.
"'Who needs it?' you cry.
"Your kids do. And it's up to you to give it to them. Even if you don't know the difference between a floppy disk and a slipped disk.
"Not too many years from now, if they're going to get into college, they'll need to know how to get along with computers. Even today, in elementary school, a lot of kids are already handicapped by not having been introduced to them sooner.
"Thank goodness for Tomy Tutor, a real computer for people like you. A complete computer that comes with computer ease, instead of computer-ese.
"The instruction manuals are written so that grade school readers can understand them. And so they can actually be programming in minutes. There's even a Voice Synthesizer available. With it, the Tomy Tutor talks.
"With the Tomy Tutor, you'll be giving your children every educational advantage. The individual attention they need to learn to spell. The patience it takes to learn multiplication tables.
"It'll help them in school. Create computer works of art. Program their own computer games.
"And if you find yourself peering over their shoulders, wondering how your checkbook balance would look in living color, just ask your children to show you how. Tomy Tutor is so simple, any adult can use it."
Tomy Tutor has an inviting, low profile design with raised keys and the same
letter spacing as a typewriter. As simple as it is to operate, it has the
sophistication of computers costing hundreds of dollars more.
A 16 bit microprocessor is your computer's brain. It has more than enough capacity to do everything people like you want their computers to do. Make learning more fun. Help around the house. Play games as challenging as in the arcades. And with capacity like this, Tomy Tutor will keep up with the myriad of uses still to come in the future.
A permanent memory, or ROM, of 32K, to remember all the things the computer thinks are important.
And a flexible memory, or RAM, of 16K, to remember all the things you think are important. Translated, what all this means is that more pieces of information can be "read" from it and "written" into it than with many other computers of comparable price.
Not only that. Our 16K memory can be expanded to 64K. So as you grow, it can grow. When we asked our competitors why they stopped where they did, they couldn't remember!
Clearer, brighter, more vivid color graphics are built-in. 16 colors, so you can "paint" masterpieces. You can even animate them.
Tomy Tutor "speaks" BASIC, the universal, easy-to-learn language of computers. And because it's built-in, Tomy Tutor is like a child knowing how to talk the day it's born. Smarter, sooner.
And music. With 8 octaves and numerous tone capabilities Tomy Tutor has outstanding sound capacity and reproduction.
Computers are just empty-headed hunks of hardware, just waiting to be fed information called software, or programs.
Tomy has programs available for every member of the family.
There is already an exciting library of educational programs -- tutors -- that make learning as easy as playing a game.
Speaking of games, Tomy Tutor gives you all the excitement and challenge of the arcades -- at home. Even 3-D effects. And if you think computer games are just for fun, try one. The attention and concentration they require ... the reflexes and hand-eye coordination they develop ... your kids are really onto something!
And in case you ever do want to get your feet wet, there are Tomy programs for Household Management and Personal Finance. Just ask your kids. They'll be happy to show you how to use them!
They're pieces of equipment peripheral to your computer, that adds to its
usefulness. With peripherals, your Tomy Tutor can grow as your family grows.
The Voice Synthesizer, for example. You may think that computers are aloof, unfriendly and complicated. Kids find them fun. One reason is that they respond in easy-to-understand words. With the Voice Synthesizer, the Tomy Tutor even talks. Programs come alive as the Tutor gives its instructions and answers out loud. Fun for everyone, the Voice Synthesizer is especially valuable for young children who don't yet read.
Joy Sticks. For more authentic, arcade-style game playing. So you can dig for gold, catch a shooting star, fight off hungry wolves, or spear an octopus with arcade-like realism. With joy sticks, all those lightning flash reflexes and concentrated attention get translated to the screen. (Your own TV screen will do just fine.) Up. Down. Right. Left. Around. FIRE! They're not called joy sticks for nothing!
Data Cassette Recorder. Computers are funny. Turn them off and they lose their minds. But with a data cassette recorder and ordinary tape, you can store what you want remembered. Important things like your five-year-old's computer drawing, 'til Daddy comes home; your computer "address book"; your stock portfolio. It also allows you to use a wide variety of pre-written programs.
Floppy Disk Drive. A wide variety of programs also come in floppy disk form. They look like 45 rpm records and are more efficient than tape. It takes a disk drive to run them through the computer.
Expansion Box. Takes all the power you already have with your Tomy Tutor and increases it tremendously. As the memory increases from 16K to 64K, nearly 70,000 pieces of information can be stored.
Printer. A printer means that your children have a way to take their homework to school, without taking the computer with them. Besides, you might want to play with it while they're away.
Floppy disk drive, expansion box, printer -- available soon. [Purcell] "It took a company that knows real children and real parents to come up with a real computer like this."
"As the third largest toy company in the world, Tomy has been in the business
of making children happy for more than 50 years. Now with Tomy Tutor, they've
come up with a way to make parents happy. Tomy Tutor, perfect for the different
needs of every member of the family, is the first real computer with no
parental guidance necessary. Far from a toy, it's a complete computer
sophisticated enough for the most enthusiastic computer buff. Yet simple
enough so that even the youngest children can learn how to use it. Without
their parents having to show them how."
Because I am an outstanding fellow, I have made available on Google Video a screen capture video of the Demo Cartridge in its entirety (link opens in a new window). You might want to watch it and follow along. The cartridge has fairly attractive graphics and a nicely orchestrated, if repetitive, background theme, demonstrating GRAPHIC mode, sprites, games, BASIC and GBASIC. Here are some of the highlights:
A summary of features.
Colour spectrum and basic GRAPHIC usage.
Game demonstration, using Traffic Jam (good choice!). The demo includes the music and actually looks exact.
BASIC programming. This is not well carried-off; it doesn't really explain what the code is supposed to do.
You can't actually play this; this is the sample BASIC code above, appearing to play a basic card game.
Entering a GBASIC program ...
... to move a multi-sprite object around and blink the stars.
The complete Tomy Tutor system, including cartridge, joy stick [sic] and joy controllers, and VOICE S. (voice synthesizer), T.RECORDER (Data Recorder), L.PRINTER (line printer) and TI-ADAPTER (!!). More about this in the Commentary.
What is noteworthy is that Tomy not only capitalized on this particular fear, but also soothed parents by pointing out that this computer could teach their children how to use it by itself. Although the Demo Cartridge talks about this a little bit, the Purcell Pamphlet unabashedly adopts this tactic throughout just about its entirety. This was important in an age where the parents were equally as inexperienced -- they wouldn't have to worry that the failure would come from their end. A familiar figure like Purcell reminding them of this feature would go great lengths to establish Tomy's credibility. Plus, as many parents were worried that things like the Atari 2600 and Intellivision would rot their children's brains, adding promised educational and home software like the other major home systems (TI 99/4A, Commodore VIC-20 and the new C64) reassured them it wouldn't be merely a boob-tube console.
Many things in the Tutor reality distortion field are quite correct. I observe on the General Information and The Tomy Tutor and I pages that this was an unbelievably easy-to-use computer. I don't consider myself a quick study by any stretch of the imagination, but I was rapidly banging out my own programs with it within a few days: true to its word, I was able to become computer-literate all by myself and quickly. It wasn't hard to manipulate the cassette recorder, programming was straightforward and instant, many of the games were fun and easy to play, and the system was durable and stood up to a seven-year-old's relentless abuse.
Likewise, however, many things never came to pass. The peripheral expansions foundered in Tomy's skunkworks and other than the Data Recorder, joystick and joy controllers the Tutor remained a closed system -- a similar problem for the Pyuuta. Plus, the greatly restricting Tomy OS prevented you from getting into the system to exploit all the power that it supposedly could grant you, something TI learned their lesson with and released Extended BASIC, but Tomy did not (see TI vs. Tomy for more about this). What good is a 16-bit CPU if you can't get to the metal directly?
Ultimately, as is often the case in marketing, Tomy's marketers made many promises that the company never kept. It's for this reason that instead of realizing its promising potential and skyrocketing to superstardom, Tutors turn up today in closets and landfills if they turn up at all.
Now for some specific notes. First, the Pamphlet:
The Demo Cartridge also seems to mention the Expansion Box, but gives it a new and very surprising name -- the TI-ADAPTER -- and fails to mention the disk drive at all. This implies that compatibility with TI cards was considered, and the lack of a separate floppy drive almost certainly implies it was incorporated into the "Adaptor" (like virtually every TI PEB I have encountered, including my own). This was probably an early idea, as the Cartridge appears to have existed before the Pamphlet (see below).
Interestingly, the Pyuuta did not offer an Expansion Box of its own, but it did offer an RS-232C/coupler option that the Tutor didn't, and it also offered floppy drives and printers. These were apparently intended to be independent stand-alone interfaces; see the Pyuuta section. The Tomy Expansion Box may have been, like the original TI PEB, a response to the envisioned original Pyuuta expansion scheme being difficult to manage with multiple peripherals simultaneously vying for the I/O port. Obviously, the Pyuuta scheme turned out to be just as non-existent.
Note that none of these three options were available when the Tutor launched (merely "available soon"), and, eventually, were never available at all. Although you can connect an external printer to a Tutor, Tomy never released that interface, let alone a printer specifically for it.
Under Joy Sticks, the Pamphlet mentions "dig for gold" (undoubtedly Demon Diggers, which never made it to the USA), and "catch a shooting star" (unclear which, if any, title this refers to -- possibly NightFlight or even Jack In The Box, but neither title was announced in the USA market). The others ("hungry wolves" and "octopus") are obviously Pooyan and Deep Six, respectively.