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History of the HP 95LX computer


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Hewlett-Packard 95LX computer

A tsunami of interest swirled among industry analysts and Hewlett-Packard customers with the unveiling of the HP 95LX (Lotus Expandable) April 23, 1991. A decade before the term personal digital assistant, or PDA, found its way into everyday vernacular, HP seized the leading edge of a wave of tools that, quite literally, placed the power of a computer into the palm of your hand.

Vital statistics

Referred to as a palmtop computer, the little HP 95LX weighed in at just 11 ounces. It occupied the space of two checkbooks glued back to back (6.3 inches x 3.4 inches x 1 inch) and could run on a pair of AA batteries for up a month—both great assets when taking computers on the road. But the real appeal lay in its industry-leading capabilities.

The HP 95LX was the first palmtop to have Lotus 1-2-3, then the world's most popular personal computer software program, built in. It also sported other state-of-the-art features such as:

  • Double the performance of computers with PC-XT architecture;
  • MS-DOS v3.22;
  • 512K bytes of RAM and 1M-byte ROM; and
  • QWERTY keyboard and a separate numeric keypad.

The six built-in applications ran directly from 1 MB of ROM and were accessible through a system manager shell program. They included:

  • An HP advanced financial calculator (an upgraded version of the HP 19B II, called HP Calc);
  • Separate appointment and phone books accessed through its little blue keys;
  • A memo editor;
  • Data communications capability; and
  • A file manager.

The HP 95LX had a 16-line, 40-character LCD screen (25x80 was the standard for desktops of the time), or 248 x 128 pixels.

Ahead of its time

Pocket PCs were still considered gimmicks at the end of the 1980s. Most were either too big or too heavy to fit into pockets. Pocket organizers were small enough but lacked PC functions.

But the writing was on the digital wall, the steady shrinking from desktop to laptop to notebook could not be stopped. Tiny PCs, coined palmtops, were poised to be the next big thing. The name sprang directly from the fact that the computer would fit in the palm of your hand. John Young, former HP CEO, wanted to give the Japanese—serious players in the race to develop palmtops—a run for their money in the emerging market of handheld products.

Happy coincidence

Legend has it that Leon Navickas, general manager of R&D for Lotus, envisioned a product that would allow the 14 million Lotus 1-2-3 users to easily take their data anywhere.

Navickas went on the road with nothing more than a wooden model of his vision and a burning desire to make it real. By quite happy circumstances, he called on HP which coincidentally had a handheld product in the design phase. Although the product designs were quite different, the vision was the same. A technical alliance emerged that allowed both companies to design a better product and bring it to market within 15 short months.

Code name Jaguar

Fast tracked for production, the HP 95LX, code named Jaguar, was manufactured at the Corvallis, Oregon, site. Division—the same division known for the innovative HP 28C, HP 28S and HP 48SX calculators. It sold for a suggested retail price of $699 (U.S.), roughly double the cost of HP's then most sophisticated handheld calculator.

Additional futuristic features allowed data storage on industry standard, credit card-sized memory cards. The HP 95LX could plug into printers and modems and transmit data over phone lines. A connectivity pack permitted users to share data files and then transport and analyze data anywhere. A wireless electronic e-mail feature made it possible to receive electronic mail through national, regional or local radio paging services. Files could be swapped between palmtops at distances up to 8 inches (.2 meters) using an infrared eye. The original HP 95LX came with 512K bytes of RAM. The second release boosted this to 1M-byte.

The rest is history

The agile little HP 95LX attracted a fiercely loyal following that spawned online palmtop users groups and even a fan club. A member of the Canadian National Cycling Team used his HP 95LX to maintain his training diary, monitor nutrition and send news flashes to the media. A Midwest farm used it to track irrigation and pesticide application patterns. Another user loaded his with a movie database and review program that he used to choose movies at the video store.

The OmniGo family, devices made by HP specifically as PDAs, followed in 1995 and 1996. HP then embraced the Windows CE system for its HP300LX and HP320LX in 1997.

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