Discover more from The Retroist
Remember the Mattel Aquarius?
In the early 1980s, as the home computer revolution was gaining momentum, Mattel Electronics sought to carve out a niche for itself in the burgeoning standalone computer market. This was an era marked by innovation and rapid technological advancement, with new computing devices appearing on the scene regularly. Companies were racing to develop their unique offerings to capture the imaginations of consumers.
Mattel, known for its iconic toys and the popular Intellivision game console, decided to venture into the realm of personal computers. To make this transition as efficient as possible, they turned to Radofin, the manufacturer responsible for producing their Intellivision consoles. Radofin had already developed two in-house computer systems, and Mattel recognized an opportunity to leverage this existing technology. This decision, they believed, would significantly reduce the research and development costs associated with creating a new computer system from scratch.
The result of this collaboration between Mattel and Radofin was the introduction of two computer systems: the Aquarius and the Aquarius II. The Aquarius was officially announced in 1982 and made its way into the hands of consumers in June 1983. Sporting an attractive price tag of $160, it seemed poised to compete in the emerging computer market.
However, the Aquarius faced challenges almost from the outset. Despite its lower price point, it was not as powerful as some of its competitors, which limited its appeal to potential buyers. To maximize the system's capabilities, users could opt for a range of peripherals, with some of them bundled with the initial purchase. These add-ons aimed to enhance the Aquarius experience, but they couldn't overcome the fundamental limitations of the system.
Perhaps the most critical factor contributing to the Aquarius's struggles was its game library. In the world of personal computers, software availability plays a pivotal role in determining a system's success. Unfortunately, the Aquarius relied heavily on ports of Intellivision games for its gaming library. While these were undeniably well-crafted games, they failed to differentiate the Aquarius sufficiently from the established Intellivision console, leading to a lackluster response from consumers.
Ultimately, the Aquarius project was short-lived, with sales figures failing to meet expectations. After just four months on the market, Mattel decided to pull the plug on this venture, marking the end of its foray into standalone computers.
Looking back, the Aquarius serves as a reminder of the rapidly evolving landscape of the early personal computer industry. While it may not have achieved the success Mattel had hoped for, it remains an intriguing chapter in the history of computing, showcasing the challenges and opportunities that characterized this era of technological innovation.