Philadelphia Area HP Handheld Club Meeting

Thursday, October 20, 1997 | Drexel University

The HPCC Conference in London (Sept 20-21)

The Handheld and Portable Computer Club's 15th Anniversary conference was held at the Imperial College in London and was a rousing success. Despite there only being around 25 advance registrants as of two weeks prior to the affair, the number ballooned to around 75 by the night before. There was representation from several countries, with approximately 7 from the United States. The conference concentrated primarily on calculators- past, present and future- but also did have a few talks on HP palmtops.

The big news (which had been rumored only a few days prior to 9/20) is that an HP group in Melbourne, Australia will be officially taking over calculator research and development from the Singapore group as of November 1st. Perhaps in a similar situation to the original division of the Corvallis facility by moving all handhelds away in order to allow it to concentrate on notebook computers, the Melbourne move allows Singapore to concentrate its efforts on palmtops. (And, indeed, HP has already announced two new palmtops to be avail- able later this year.) It had become clear to us from the two previous con- ferences that the Singapore group had pushed calculators onto the back burner following the release of the HP38G high-school machine. And, with its lackluster sales, one would think that this did not help rescue calculators back to the forefront of their efforts.

At the conference, three individuals from the new team spoke individually and also in a Q&A panel on the future direction of their calculator group. Since it is extremely early, we are currently dealing with a blank sheet of paper, but the words that were spoken were all the right words: They are enthusiastic, willing to listen to the users, and interested in learning lessons from the Corvallis HP team. Also, they indicated that there would be many products, and that they might take different tacks from the past, and thus we might see some unconventional "surprises".

The HP speakers included Chris Wallin, who will head up the calculator team; Richard Kirby (from Corvallis) who will be heading up European marketing; and Garry Heinze, who will be primarily in charge of technical development. There will initially be three centers of activity: Melbourne for R&D, Vancouver, Washington/Portland,Oregon for U.S. Marketing operations and Grenoble, France for European marketing operations. Also, Charles Lim from Australia was there in the audience, and he will be part of the team as well, acting as a liason to the user community. (In fact, Charles will be attending the 1997 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual meeting to be held in Chicago in November, and already he might be visiting the Chicago CHIP group while he is there.)

Also in the audience was Eric Vogel, who spoke twice on the HP Logic Dart (similar to his visit to our group in June) and Bill Wickes, who was there as a listener. Apparently, a day or so prior to the conference, the Aussies met with Bill and Eric as well as the European calculator distributors to initially get acquainted with them and start a hopefully long-term relationship. Bill had a few things to say (from the audience) during the HP panel, with respect to retiring the "old guard" and activating the "new guard". Of the three new HP speakers, only Richard Kirby had intimate knowledge of the HP48; but the other two were at least familiar with the product. Bill suggested that sometimes it's a good thing to start anew with fresh ideas and little knowledge of the roadblocks of the past, as he did in 1984-1986 with the RPL team. However, as Richard Nelson pointed out, Bill "clearly understood the HP41" prior to his embarking in a new direction. (And perhaps he understood it better than even the Corvallis HP41 designers in some respects!) It was felt by virtually everyone with an opinion on the subject, that the new team must understand the HP48 before attempting to conceive a successor at the high end. I believe that they realize this important point.

Hopefully, the Aussies paid attention to some of the other conference present- ations related to advanced software for the HP48. There were talks on both the Metakernel and ALG48, which show just how powerful machine code on the HP48 can be when used by qualified individuals. I presented the basic Metakernel functionality (editor, stack viewer, file manager, matrix editor), and then Jean-Yves Avenard (leader of the MK development team) presented the more advanced features (equation writer, assember, library builder, grob editor). Jean-Yves actually generated unsolicited audience applause from some of the demos he was doing. Phillippe Roussel demonstrated the ALG48 library, already well known to be in the forefront in HP48 math freeware libraries. ALG48 brings the calculator just about even with the TI92 in symbolic math capabil- ities, and surpasses it in other areas. While the excitement was still high, Richard Nelson asked the audience (with the HP folks still sitting there), how many attendees would be interested in an HP48GX successor based solely on the existing hardware, but with the advanced software demonstrated at the conference built inside - and almost everyone raised their hands. This was obviously done as a message.

Back in June when Eric Vogel spoke at our meeting, he rationalized the recent de-emphasizing of calculators by the Singapore group as the "passing of the calculator era". His ideas made sense at the time. I approached him during a break on the second day of the HPCC conference to ask him if back then, he had any idea that the Australians would be resurrecting calculator R&D, and he said no.

Other speakers covered subjects such as collecting older calculators; an intro to the HP320LX palmtop; using the HP38G in teaching math; a talk on how the HP48 wordsize function affects how integers are manipulated; a user's idea on the future of calculators; and a new I/O approach for the HP48. The latter talk done by Tony Duell, showed a set of devices based on a chip set from Philips which allows analog and digital I/O between RS-232 and the outside world. He demonstrated the HP48 taking temperature and distance measurements, turning on lights and switches and even controlling a robot performing the Tower of Hanoi simulation.

In the vendor area, a few items stood out. A handful of new books were shown, including Guy Ball's "Collector's Guide to Pocket Calculators", the new third edition of Wlodek Mier-Jedrzejowicz' "Guide to HP Handheld Calculators and Computers", and a book on the history of consumer products by Sinclair. Martin Pedersen was manning a booth, selling homebrew HP48 RAM cards which were very well made and had densities going up to 2 meg. These cards were significantly cheaper than others as well. The 2-meg cards were $300. apiece. Joe Rigdon of Miami was showing off a portion of his HP calculator/accessory collection at a vendor table, and had two HP10C units. (I had never actually seen one of these in the flesh up to this point.) Also, in this same room was HPCC's glass case containing one each of every HP handheld released between the HP35 and the present day. Jo Vandale of the Belgian group was taking digital photos of all the attendees as well as collecting personal contact information, with the intention of distributing the data to everyone some time in the future. (I have yet to receive anything.)

At the evening barbecue following the second day of presentations, Gerlof Donga announced that his Dutch PROMPT group would like to host a conference in two years' time, in September of 1999 in the Amsterdam area. It is his hope that by that time there will be some fruit from the HP-Australians' labors. Also, Wlodek recently planned a trip to the Seattle area, with hopes to drum up support for a U.S. conference next year in that vicinity, since the new U.S. calculator marketing offices will be in their neck of the woods. His trip will be in a month or so. We'll have to stay tuned. Overall, it was an enjoyable time in London.

HP Announces New Palmtops, Others Follow Suit

On October 13th, HP announced the first and second followups to the HP300-series palmtop Windows CE machines. The initial release is the $699. HP360LX, with 8 meg of RAM and the new Windows CE 2.0 operating system in ROM. This should be avail- able in a month or so. (A user-installable ROM upgrade from Windows CE 1.1 to 2.0 will soon be available for HP320LX users as well.) The second machine, to be available at the end of the year, is the $999. HP620LX, with 16 meg of RAM and a color LCD screen. In addition, Sharp has jumped into the Windows CE 2.0 fray with three units, including the 8-meg HC4500 with 640 by 240 color screen, 33.6K modem and optional plug-in color digital still camera. Both the HP and the Sharp units use second-generation RISC CPUs which are approximately double the speed of their predecessors. It is already known that Casio, and NEC will show new machines at the fall COMDEX show as well. Windows CE verison 2.0 includes all the applications of version 1, plus pocket versions of Microsoft Power Point and Outlook.


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