The Myth, The Marketing, The Muddle:
The Purcell Pamphlet and Tomy Tutor Demonstration Cartridge

Marketing: the domain of wishful thinking, and never better shown than here.

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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[Front of pamphlet, with Sarah Purcell.]

The Purcell Pamphlet

First, the Pamphlet. Click the cover at left for a larger view (65K).

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.

Pamphlet Copy

[Purcell] Here's a real computer that's so easy to use, there's no parental guidance necessary. [Pamphlet inside.]

No Parental Guidance Necessary makes it a real computer for people like you.

[Purcell] "Tomy Tutor. A real computer for people like you."

[Purcell] "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."

[Girl] "16K. Wow! What a memory!"

    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.

[Boy] "It's teaching me math. That will help me in school."

[Pamphlet outside.]     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!

[Woman] "No, Mom. Peripherals are not a new brand of designer jeans."

    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."

[Purcell] "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."

[Purcell] "And the same kind of company makes you a real offer like this!"

Try it for 5 days -- Free.

    Just buy your Tomy Tutor and a Joy Stick or a pair of Joy Controllers before December 31, 1983.
    If, after 3 days, you're not convinced that the Tutor is the computer for you, just return it to your dealer before the end of the fifth day. You'll get a questionnaire to fill out and a full refund.
    Of course, we think you'll want to keep your Tomy Tutor. But don't take our word for it. Take the Tutor home today. And see for yourself.


The Tomy Tutor Demonstration Cartridge

But great paper is nothing without great product, so Tomy created said great product and software to show it off. That software came in the form of the Tomy Tutor Demonstration Cartridge, which does not seem to have been sold commercially, and was intended simply as a plug'n'go package for store demo units.

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:

[Screenshot.]
Main screen and a big-ol' Tomy logo.

[Screenshot.]
A summary of features.

[Screenshot.]
Colour spectrum and basic GRAPHIC usage.

[Screenshot.]
Sprite animation.

[Screenshot.]
Game demonstration, using Traffic Jam (good choice!). The demo includes the music and actually looks exact.

[Screenshot.]
BASIC programming. This is not well carried-off; it doesn't really explain what the code is supposed to do.

[Screenshot.]
You can't actually play this; this is the sample BASIC code above, appearing to play a basic card game.

[Screenshot.]
Entering a GBASIC program ...

[Screenshot.]
... to move a multi-sprite object around and blink the stars.

[Screenshot.]
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.

The cartridge carries a copyright date of 1983. There was a separate one for the Japanese market, which since we're limiting ourselves to the Tomy Tutor, I will not discuss here.


Commentary

Tomy really played on the fears of 1980s parents that their children would be left in the dust by the computer revolution. In this 21st century age, computers are ubiquitous, nearly everyone in the developed world and many in the developing world have one (or several), and the concept of an international high-speed network carrying instant news, mail and media is considered mundane. Contrast this, however, with the situation in 1983 where the only one in my house who had any idea how to use a computer was my father and his experience came from feeding an IBM 704 punched cards with FORTRAN IV when he was getting his math major. In that context, the rapid explosion of microcomputers had a lot of parents worried that they wouldn't be able to coach their children into the next century. Although my folks don't remember this circular, they resonated avidly with the statement Purcell makes saying they were responsible for making sure their children had the tools to compete in the future.

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:

[Thumbnail of complete Tutor peripheral set.]
Now, the peripherals. Click the thumbnail above for a full view of all the announced devices (96K) as pictured in the Pamphlet (it will open in a new window for reference), and compare it with the screenshot from the Demo Cartridge at right.

[Screenshot.]
[Mockup home application screenshot.] Additional specific notes:


It goes without saying that if you worked on the engineering or marketing team for the Tutor in America, I'd like to hear from you. Until then, I hope you have found this look at the promise and the delivery instructive.


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