Getting Online: The Hayes Smartmodem
By James Grahame
The Hayes Smartmodem took the market by storm in 1981, connecting thousands of computer enthusiasts through online bulletin boards systems (BBSs) and online multi-user networks such as CompuServe. Back in the late 1970s, modems were expensive and communicated over phone lines at 300 bps - well below reading speed. They also used bulky acoustic couplers which required users to dial a number and place the handset into a pair of cushioned ports on top of the modem.
Dennis Hayes and Dale Heatherington set out to change all that. Their Smartmodem was a clever little box containing a Z8 microprocessor that communicated with a home computer using the industry standard RS-232 serial port. It could be programmed to answer calls and dial numbers without manual intervention using a simple string of control characters passed from the computer. Introduced at a price of $299, the Smartmodem quickly became the industry standard.
The $699 Smartmodem 1200 arrived in mid 1982, followed by the $549 Smartmodem 2400 in 1985. Intense competition from clone makers pushed prices down rapidly in the late 1980s, and modems became commodity products. Hayes gradually slipped into obscurity, unable to reestablish itself as a leader in the high speed modem market of the 1990s. The company bet its future on the emergence of digital ISDN technology and lost, declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1994.