The Most Expensive Keyboard Ever

When the Mattel Intellivision went into wide release in 1980, over one-third of the space on the back of the system's box was dedicated to promoting the "Under Development" keyboard expansion. It cheerfully explained that you were only buying the Master Component of the Intellivision. To unlock the full power of the system and transform it into an unstoppable 16-bit home computing monster, you'd need to buy the Keyboard Component.

But the Keyboard Component was continually delayed and never really made it into general circulation.


I guess this passed for sleek and sexy in 1980. Maybe.
The biggest problem with the keyboard was even if it had been sold nationally, it would have cost at least twice as much as the regular system. Only 4,000 keyboards were manufactured and sold mostly in test markets, but all were eventually recalled with the purchase price being fully refunded. If you wanted to keep your piece of crap keyboard for some reason, you had to sign a waiver. That's pretty bad.

Not releasing the Keyboard Component as promised caused numerous problems. Thanks to consumer complaints, the Federal Trade Commission started investigating Mattel Electronics for fraud. Mattel was eventually ordered by the FTC in mid-1982 to start paying a monthly fine until the keyboard was released. To appease customers, the FTC, and to avoid further financial punishment, Mattel quickly released a less powerful add-on called the Entertainment Computer System.

But that didn't prevent Compro, the company Mattel had contracted to manufacture the keyboard, from suing them for $10 million, claiming fraud, breach of contract, and non-payment for 1,300 units. That lawsuit was eventually settled in early 1984, around the same time Mattel Electronics went out of business. Surprise!

Fragmaster: The whole Keyboard Component debacle was indeed embarrassing for Mattel, but it's probably a good thing that the stupid thing wasn't widely available. Can you imagine how upset you'd be if you spent $600 only to play exciting cassettes like Jack LaLanne's Physical Conditioning, Jeane Dixon Astrology, Spelling Challenge, and Family Budgeting on an under-powered (even at the time), ugly, feeble excuse for a home computer?

According to one source, Jay Leno told his only funny joke ever at the Mattel Electronics 1981 Christmas Party: "You know what the three big lies are, don't you? 'The check is in the mail,' 'I'll still respect you in the morning,' and 'the Keyboard will be out in the spring.'"

Fargo: Don't get me wrong -- I loved my Intellivision. I even had the voice synthesizer add-on (B-17 Bomber ruled!) But here we've got another example of marketing trying to sell a system as something it wasn't, and this time with some pretty terrible consequences. Intellivision's strength was as a game console, no ifs ands or buts about it. Trying to pretend it would be something different through an add-on just wasn't a smart idea. Games people! Games move the market!

Ben: Maybe Sega's 32X wasn't the worst add-on of all time.

Then again, the 32X lacks a built-in analog tape deck, which scores a few points for the Intellivision Keyboard.

Hmm. Toughie.

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