We all know the story of the personal computer as a consumer-oriented product. But I just thought that real end user solution should have appeared before that time. So a product that was probably expensive, but allowed using it as a service charging for it, for example computer-terminal for transport time-table access or game machine. On the other site, the video terminals as we know them appeared not so long ago. So if there was something like this, this could be hardware/software most likely offering no interactivity, but probably printing some information based on user actions.


It would, as you suggest, probably be an arcade game console. A quick Wikipedia search turns up Computer Space, generally agreed upon as the first coin-operated electronic video game ever marketed (though Pong had greater success). However, there's an even earlier one: Spacewar!, not coin-operated, but one of the first popular examples of what a computer could do for the masses. That was developed in 1961-2. However, the PDP-1 on which it was programmed was by no means a "consumer-oriented" platform; these were marketed to big companies and universities. It wasn't until the 70s with Computer Space and Pong that a computer powerful enough to play a game like that could fit in a console, and it really wasn't until the Atari 2600 beginning in '77 that the masses could buy a computer and then buy software to plug into the computer.

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The very earliest thing that might fit your description (while stretching it) would be teletypewriters which became available in the 1920s, first as clients for telegraph systems, but which were also the first remote computer terminals before screen-based terminals became available in the 1970s. This heritage is still visible in the abbreviation TTY for virtual consoles in Unix systems.

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The TRS-80 was one of the earliest mass-produced packages. Not sure that it would count as the fisrt though. Wikipedia pegs its release as Aug 3, 1977.

(Props to Michael Borgwardt for the comment). The Commodore PET was released in January of 1977, predating the TRS-80.

The Altair 8800 was the basis for the TRS-80 and went on sale in late 1974 / early 1975. It's likely the first product to meet your definition. The Altair had a pretty good commercial run as a consumer-oriented product. Per Wikipedia:

The January 1975 issues appeared on newsstands a week before Christmas of 1974 
and the kit was officially (if not yet practically) available for sale 

From what I have found, the references predating the Altair are for programmable calculators. While there is some blur between the two realms, I believe the Altair meets your definition of first hardware / software package.

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    Predated by the Commodore PET – Michael Borgwardt Aug 29 '12 at 14:47
  • @MichaelBorgwardt - good comment. I had forgotten about the Commodore line. – user53019 Aug 29 '12 at 14:59

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