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October 2014 Retro Gaming Article


October 24, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

In 1981 my favorite video game company was planning to enter the Home Networking arena as AtariTel

Long ago I bought my parents an intercom for their home. The 3 units simply plugged into any A/C outlet and instantly had the ability to communicate over the wiring within the walls of the house.
AtariTel logo button
It was as simple as pushing a button and your voice would come out one or both of the other intercom units. It seemed like a pretty cool technology that could be applied to all sorts of applications.

As the Home Networking and Automation technology started to grow, Atari created AtariTel to pursue this market. According to a press release from the 1983 CES convention, Atari had created a new line of consumer electronics outside of video games. This work had begun in secrecy in 1981.

Not long after I gave that intercom to my parents, similar devices began appearing from security systems to automation devices that let you control lights and appliances from a central location - all using only your home's internal wiring.

Led by Steve Bristow, AtariTel was going to revolutionize communication within your home via automation and connect you through innovative telephone systems. Atari wasn't seeking to become a phone company, but rather show a unique approach to the way we communicated.

AtariTel phone Many features we take for granted today were cutting-edge in the early 80s. Features like full-duplex, speaker phones, Flash buttons, volume controls were part of what Atari wanted to offer in one phone. These features could be found on various business phones, but not all in one device. Atari wanted to invigorate the business and home phone as a concept.

When the FCC legislated it "OK" for AT&T subscribers to connect their own privately-owned devices to Bell's lines, in 1968, the telco industry was changed forever. Companies like AtariTel could offer products that would be compatible with existing telco infrastructure. Atari saw the inroads being made as companies offered equipment to customers outside the traditional phone company outlay.

This insight by atari that led them into an entirely different segment of consumer retail from gaming really shows the kind of company they were trying to become. They made huge contributions to creating a gaming industry, but even in the early 89's they weren't content to simply build better game consoles. They had interests in using their savvy to penetrate multiple markets. And they even had a unique retail concept for all of their wondrous toys...

Revolutionary AtariTel products, along with Atari games, computers, and business solutions were to be part of lifestyle brand sold in an upcoming chain of stores called, Atari Adventure Centers. Alas all of this came to an end with economic conditions, business decisions and consumer perception.

All this makes me realize Atari was a larger entity than I was aware when I first pushed Asteroids into my 2600. What a cool company and such a unique time to be in the tech sector.

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