According to my uncle's notes, this story is mostly true, but misses some of the nuances.
First, you have to remember that corporate culture in TI in the mid-70s was not at all like what is common in Sili Valley today. TI in the mid-70s was considerably more "locked down" than modern, small, nimble companies.
To say that management saw little value in it is not exactly correct. It's probably more fair to say they weren't ready to even think about new ideas. I would not be surprised to learn that TI at the time made year-long plans on January 2nd and didn't stop to think about new ideas until December 30th.
But there was definitely interest in educational devices among TI execs. I know my mother (an Educational Psychologist) frequently talked with my uncle (Exec in charge of Educational Initiatives) about such a project for several years before the release of the Speak-n-Spell after extended contact with Seymour Papert, Cynthia Solomon and Logo.
What is true is TI wasn't sure what product they should make and Breedlove, et al. did rather gobsmack TI management when it was presented to them. (The story I heard was the concept was nearly fully developed when presented.)
The problem was that their immediate management, who were busy building calculators, did not know how the SnS fit into the calculator line. The story my uncle recounted was there was a process in place to make sure good ideas made it to management; but it did take a while. Either Breedlove or Wiggens supposedly pulled a corporate social faux pas by trying to leap-frog over the established process.
To our modern silicon valley sensitivities, this would be an obvious thing to do: if you find you're blocked, you just go around the blockage. But TI in the mid-70s was still culturally staid.
Complicating matters further, the engineering team was in Lubbock and the execs they needed to talk to were in Dallas.
A better way of putting this is Breedlove, et al. were way ahead of their immediate management in Lubbock and it took a while for them to figure out who in Dallas they needed to talk to. Saying exec management didn't think it should be produced is a bit simplistic.
I am dying to know what was learned internally at TI after this regarding project oversight. I think we all KNOW that the way get things done is hand out the tools and get the hell out of the way. This seems to be the message at Skunk Works, Bell labs, Xerox PARC etc.
But when the pressure is on, your Big Corp is GOING to lay on the product, tech, marketing, etc etc governance, replete with timelines, KPIs, budgeting, accounts, timesheets, yada yada. This kills the project.
There are people who are good at seeming busy, but who wildly overestimate, take every opportunity to get bogged down on some trivial obstacle, chronically misunderstand objectives/values, can't consistently put three words in a row correctly, and just seem in general to be the weak link; those people need to be managed.
A lot of times there's a group of engineers who don't agree with whatever decision and go off and do what they want to do instead. I'm guessing when that happens, most of the time it never amounts to anything and never sees the light of day.
As I recall, people had no experience with speech synthesis in their everyday lives. There were no automated phone systems with a computer voice you called into. This technology was something you might think could be done in a lab somewhere, but not everyone would have necessarily even thought that.
And suddenly there was this device -- a child's toy no less -- that was compact and portable and battery powered, and it was talking to you. Interactively, which also added to the novelty because most people didn't have home computers and many didn't use a computer at work at all either.
My first computer, the ZX Spectrum, was simple enough that we assembled and programmed a roughly equivalent machine from scratch on breadboard in my first year at uni.
I recently resurrected my old Big Track robot/tank toy from my dads loft for my son to play with. Its over 30 years old, and has less computing power than an electric window controller, but back then it was the most futuristic thing I could imagine. My boy absolutely loves it. Its just the right level of sophistication for a 5yo, although I need to stick a volume control on it :)
In hindsight, it was probably my first introduction to basic computing and programming. I now run a software development company.
The guys who decided to pursue the creation of these devices positively impacted the lives of so many children. What a lovely story.
I attribute my early vocabulary and spelling to this little machine. Awesome, just awesome history.
I cant look at a potato without that machines voice in my head
Which now that I typed it up looks like it should be pronounced “is-Lee”
I hope you can enjoy beside the language "barriere"
How I miss the 80's.
I was considering purchasing a ‘new’ model as a gift.
On the physical side I still enjoy the simplicity of the device. It's tactile in ways that touchscreens aren't, even if you have the one with the membrane keyboard. My kids can pick it up, turn it on, and start typing letters and get letter & words read aloud, no tutorial or parent permission required. I love that it's an appliance, I don't have to worry about in-app purchases, ads, and all the other modern consumerist trappings.
It's not perfect and not deep, but then not everything needs to be. Sometimes good enough can be great.