Brief History of the ADAM

The Beginning

This story really begins with the introduction of the ColecoVision video game system. Back in the early 1980's the video game industry was one of the hottest around, much like in today's marketplace. It seemed a natural progression for a toy company to want to cash in on the craze. The Atari VCS (later 2600) was the most popular video game system around, and there were several would-be contenders, the most notable being the Mattel Intellivision and the Coleco's ColecoVision.

Coleco released the ColecoVision in August of 1982, right in time for the hot '82 christmas buying season. There were two things that made the ColecoVision an instant success. First, the graphics and sound of the ColecoVision were far superior to those found on its main rivals, the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, with Coleco promising that the machine was "Arcade Quality" and touting a large array of arcade ports for their initial software library. Second, the machine included Donkey Kong as a pack-in game. Nintendo's Donkey Kong was an immensely popular video game in 1982 (arguably the most popular), and Coleco snagged the license for Donkey Kong for a song: $250,000 in 1982 dollars, with no royalties. As a result, Coleco sold 550,000 ColecoVisions by Christmas of 1982. The ColecoVision proved to be a phenomenal success, and quickly supplanted the Intellivision for the #2 position by mid 1983. Coleco's income shot up 420% from the year before in 1982.

Introducing the ADAM

Now this is where the ADAM fits in. The ColecoVision was unique from its counterparts in that it was far more expandable. For example, Coleco offered an Atari 2600 adapter for the ColecoVision (which Atari sued Coleco over). Coleco had planned a particular expansion module, the Super Game Module which relied on the old RCA CED videodisc player, and would allow players to play the popular videodisc-based games such as Dragon's Lair or Space Ace, EXACTLY like the arcade games. It's possible that Coleco saw the rising popularity of the home computer market as a threat to the video game industry (indeed it was its downfall) and decided to replace the Super Game Module with the ADAM computer.

The ADAM Computer was introduced at Summer CES in 1983. It was without a doubt the star of the show. Coleco had two models of the ADAM computer. One was an upgrade to the ColecoVision game system, dubbed Expansion Module #3, and the other was a standalone version which incorporated a ColecoVision in one case. Making the ADAM an add-on option to the ColecoVision gave the ADAM an already established user base of around 3 million people to sell the unit to at a reduced cost. In addition, the ADAM system contained 64K system RAM, 16K Video RAM, a high-speed tape storage device, a detachable keyboard (unheard of for the home computer market, the only place to get that was on an IBM PC for a much higher price), and a letter-quality printer. Also included in the package was a nice collection of software, which included a Typewriter and Word Processor that were ready to use as soon as the machine was turned on, a video game, and Coleco's Apple II compatible BASIC language. The system was also expandable through three internal expansion slots. The real killer was the price; a MSRP of $600 for all of the above for the standalone machine. This made the ADAM less expensive than all of its counterparts, and it was COMPLETE, save for the the addition of a TV set or a monitor. After the CES, Atari, Commodore, Apple and IBM were all concerned that the ADAM would destroy their home/personal computer business.

There was a problem, however. What Coleco showed at CES was in fact a clay mock-up in a tinted glass case. Nobody was allowed to touch the display units, and the representatives at the Coleco booth simply pantomimed to a series of screenshots, very little was interactive. Nevertheless, throngs of people visited the Coleco booth during CES to see the ADAM. Coleco promised that the ADAM would be ready by Christmas of 1983, but due to some bugs in the ADAM hardware and production delays, they missed the Christmas season deadline for a month. As a result, the press hammered Coleco for their failure to keep their Christmas deadline promise. In addition, the first batch of ADAM's suffered from some glitches, most notably the printer. Again, the press bashed Coleco, most notably Consumer Reports. As a result, many would-be buyers avoided the ADAM, and a typical response of most buyers when asked if they were going to buy an ADAM was, "No, the printer doesn't work," even after Coleco fixed all of the bugs in the initial run.

By January of 1985, Coleco dropped the ADAM computer, in favor of following the much more profitable craze in the toy industry that they created: Cabbage Patch Kids. The failure of the ADAM can therefore be attributed to three major factors: failure to meet the release deadline, unfavorable reviews by the press, and Coleco mis-management of the system. While the ADAM was not a business success, it is a fantastic little computer, and remains my absolute favorite home computer system. Spec-wise it is probably the most well-conceived of any of the early home computers. To see what I mean, visit the system overview page.