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Design News
July 08, 1991
pp 74-76

Two technology giants team up on an innovative
computer that is 'unconsciously portable'

Debra Bulkeley, Contributing Editor

September 15, 1997

From automobiles to airplanes, HPP automobiles to companies are forming technical alliances to design better products and bring them to market faster. Such alliances were rare until a few years ago. Now, almost daily comes word of new relationships between domestic companies as well as foreign and U.S. firms. Among recent examples:

One alliance has resulted in what many analysts are calling a new class of computer. Lotus Development Corp., Cambridge, MA, and Hewlett-Packard's Corvallis, OR, division have joined hands to produce an I l-ounce, IBM-compatible PC with Lotus 1-2-3 built in.

Portable 1-2-3. It all started with Leon Navickas, general manager of R&D for Lotus. He wanted a product that would let Lotus' 14 million 1-2-3 users take their data anywhere easily.

The only glitch was that Lotus is in the business of selling software, and Navickas' idea was for a checkbook-sized PC with Lotus 1-2-3 built in. So in September 1989, armed with a wooden model of his vision of the computer, Navickas visited several leading consumer electronics companies in the U.S. and Japan. Ironically, one company he visited Hewlett-Packard had a hand-held product in the design phase. Although the products were by no means identical, everything clicked. A match was made between two engineering departments separated by 3,000 miles.

In April 1991, just slightly more than a year after the technical alliance was formalized, Lotus and Hewlett-Packard's (HP) Corvallis Div. announced the HP 95LX, the equivalent of a 640K PC that fits into a coat pocket. It costs $699.

"We didn't have to convince each other about this product, so we were able to move fast," says Dan Terpack, general manager of HP's Corvallis Div. The division is responsible for developing HP's hand-held products.

Adds Navickas: "If we were to try to produce this product alone, it would have taken us about two years, we would have spent a lot more money, and we would have made a lot more mistakes."

The evolution of the HP 95LX HP evolution of the HP 95 shows how engineers from different companies can work together to create a state-of-the-art product. While HP and Lotus are the main players in the alliance, the design effort involved several other high- powered technology companies: Intel for the custom IC, Microsoft for the PC operating system, Hitachi for the liquid crystal display, and Motorola for a wireless communication feature that will be available at the end of the year.

"Alliances are very important," says Terpack of HP. "We're in a very competitive environment, and none of us has the resources to do everything ourselves. This is the way to compete in the 90s."

A real team effort. About 50 people from Lotus and HP were involved in developing the computer, code-named Jaguar.

Logically, it would seem that the tasks of developing the palmtop computer would be clear cut: Lotus would handle the software side and HP the hardware development. This wasn't the case at all.


"It's tough to point out that HP did this or Lotus did that. We really worked as a team," says Jerry Erickson, R&D Section Manager for the Corvallis Div.

Engineers from both companies stress that each group had its own ideas about certain features of the computer, regardless of whether the issue was hardware or software.

And they didn't always agree.

"Sure, we had plenty of conflicts," says Al Blanchette, manager of product development for Lotus on the project, "but we never got to the point where we had shouting or screaming matches or real arguments about things. We'd present our side, they'd present their side, and we'd reach a conclusion."

Adds Eric Schultz, systems architect for Lotus: "We really had respect for each other's expertise."

One design issue was the amount of costly RAM for the computer. HP initially designed the palmtop with 256K.

"This was one of the places where Eric quickly realized that there was no way the machine was going to be as effective as it needs to be to sell with 256K," says Blanchette. "The hardware designers went off and solved the problem they weren't so sure was going to be solvable at the beginning of the project. But they got us what we needed, and I think the product is much better off for it."

Not all the challenges centered around design issues. Engineers also had to work around a three-hour time difference and the 3,000-mile separation.

"Working across a 3,000-mile area, it obviously wasn't possible to go to their facility to see things, and get equipment from them," Blanchette says. Solution: They set up electronic communications. Lotus engineers typically worked until at least 10 p.m. most days. Blanchette and Erickson even met in Denver a couple of times. "It was one plane stop for both of us," Erickson says.

Power-packed tool. The alliance produced a computer that offers a wealth of technology. According to Lotus, it offers more than twice the performance of a computer with a PC-XT architecture. It runs on MSDOS ROM Version 3.22, offers 512K bytes RAM and 1 M-byte ROM; and has a Qwerty and a separate numeric keypad.

The machine stores data on credit-card sized memory cards and can plug into printers and into modems to transmit data over phone lines. The palmtop is able to run on two AA batteries for about 60 hours--an important feature for an on-the-road machine. It also has a backup battery for data protection.

On the software side, HP 95LX has six built-in applications, which all run directly from ROM. In audition to Release 2.2 of Lotus 1-2-3, the palmtop has an HP advanced financial calculator; an appointment and phone book; a memo editor; data communications capabilities; and a file manager.

Lotus engineers developed all of the application software except the calculator. HP integrated the features of its high-end financial calculator into the palmtop "and more," says Terpack. The palmtop supports third-party applications.

The liquid crystal display screen is 16 lines by 40 columns; it offers a 240 by 128 dot matrix display and can run 1-2-3 graphics. It has a serial 1/0, and supports the Hayes modem protocol. The plug-in memory card slot supports the PC Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA 1.0) and Japanese Electronic Industry Development Association (JEIDA 4.0) international standards, which will open the door for companies to develop peripherals for the palmtop. Compatible portable peripherals currently available from other manufacturers include the Diconix 150 Plus portable printer from Kodak, and a portable Worldport 2400-baud modem from Touchbase Systems.

A terminal emulator lets users connect into public data bases, bulletin boards, and electronic mail systems. The palmtop offers some interesting connectivity features. An optional HP F1001A connectivity pack, which sells for $99.95 and has all the software of the palmtop except Lotus 1-2-3 and terminal emulation, lets users upload information from their desktop PC to the 95LX. This would let someone, for example, merge the 1-2-3 spreadsheet or appointment book that resides on their desktop to the palmtop. A two-way infrared feature--a technology that HP has used since 1986 in its high-end calculator--lets two 1-2-3 on the go. The HP 99LX portable computer is targeted to 1-2-3 users who need their numbers with them at all times as they travel.

LX users transmit data from less than a foot away.

And look for more 95LX add-ons in the future, such as third-party applications on ROM cards. Later this year, Motorola will offer the DataStream Advanced information Receiver, a pocket-pager-sized device that plugs into the computer and lets it receive data or messages of as many as 32,000 characters from existing pager networks. It will weigh only 3 1/2 oz. This will allow users to receive radio mail on their portable computer.

Targeting the market. Users can access 1-2-3 on the HP 95LX by merely pressing a key that has the 1-2-3 logo on it.

"Lotus users have been asking us to make their information more mobile, "explains Navickas. "We're not replacing their desktop PC; we're not suggesting that this is even a notebook or a laptop. This is maybe somebody's third computer. We want to give the user the benefit of instant analysis anywhere. Any spreadsheet that you can run on a 640K PC you should be able to put on the HP 95LX and run without any changes," he says.

But both companies see the palmtop as having more far-reaching appeal than 1-2-3 users.

"We call this computer unconsciously portable. You can throw it in your briefcase and not even know it's there," Terpack of HP says. "This product has the widest band of popularity of any product we've marketed." He refuses to reveal production figures, however.

Some 355,000 palmtop units will ship this year in the U.S. and 800,000 worldwide, according to market projections from researcher Dataquest. This number will jump, predicts Dataquest, to about 3.2 million in the U.S. and 5.2 million worldwide by 1994.

HP is handling the manufacturing and the distribution of the 95LX. The distribution channels will include HP's contacts in consumer electronics, the PC peripheral market, and Lotus' software channels. English and international English versions of the product are currently shipping, and versions in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese will be available in the third quarter of this year.

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