iView: Passing the Torch after Chronicling Mobile Computing for 26 Years

HP 110 Portable PCIn the fall of 1984, fellow software engineers at Hewlett-Packard thought I was crazy. I was leaving a great job at a great company to get married and move to a small town in Iowa. To do what? To meditate!

The first laptop and the first LaserJet

Rita and I honeymooned by driving from Palo Alto, California to Fairfield, Iowa. We were moving in order to participate in a world peace project, one that we still participate in today. We wanted to practice the Transcendental Meditation program (tm.org) with others on the campus of Maharishi University of Management (mum.edu). By meditating with others, we accelerate our own development, and we help spread the effect of universal silence and coherence to the world. Both my friends at HP and my family thought I had lost it. Further, how was I going to support my new wife and myself? Between us we had enough savings to last a year.

HP LaserJet 1

Before leaving HP, through an employee purchase, I bought two new, extraordinary, pioneering products: the 9-pound HP110 MS-DOS Portable PC and the 70 lb HP LaserJet 1. The HP110 was the first clamshell PC-compatible laptop. The LaserJet empowered individuals and small businesses, for the first time, to generate their own high quality, multi-font print pieces.

I was smitten the first time I saw the HP110 prototype. HP Corvallis engineers used calculator technology to create a self-sufficient, battery operated, solid state, truly 

portable computer. No longer confined to a desk, one could use a computer anywhere, anytime! I still remember the thrill sitting in bed with my new laptop, playing games, writing a memo, and manipulating a spreadsheet.

How would I support myself in Iowa?

I justified the purchase of the HP laptop and printer by believing I might use these powerful new tools to a competitive advantage by starting a business. In 1984, especially in rural Iowa, it was rare for an individual or even a small business to be self-sufficient computer-wise.

PrinterTalkI soon discovered that it was not easy to print from the laptop to the LaserJet. Accordingly, I decided to write software that I eventually called "PrinterTalk" to facilitate the printing process. Further, I hoped that selling PrinterTalk would be a way to support myself. 

As I finished the software, reality set in. How many people had both an HP Portable and a LaserJet? Further, even if these customers existed and needed my software, how would I reach them?

Starting our first publication

The answer to how to sell PrinterTalk became the idea for The Portable Paper. I knew from my time at HP that the vast majority of end users had little idea of how to make full use of a powerful personal computer. I decided to write a newsletter featuring tips, tutorials, plus software and accessory reviews. In that newsletter, I would market PrinterTalk.

The problem was that I knew nothing about publishing or running a business. Miraculously, somehow my unusual educational background in mind, heart, and spirit (software engineering, social work, and meditation) prepared me well.

I turned to two friends for help. I asked graphic designer, George Foster if he knew anything about creating a publication. "Sure", he said. (To put it kindly, George was exaggerating.) George, the typesetter, and I spent three sleepless days and nights in late November 1985 laying out the first issue. Since then, George has done every one of our 200 plus magazine and newsletter covers. (George is now nationally known as a top book cover designer, fostercovers.com.)

For copyediting, I turned to writing professor, Jim Karpen. Jim now blogs at iPhoneLife.com and writes our Internet columns. With Jim's assistance, I created a promotional piece using my HP Portable and LaserJet that I mailed to two thousand registered HP 110 owners. An astounding 20 percent send me a check for $55 to subscribe to our as yet non-existent newsletter. I deposited the money and used the proceeds to start the company and create the first issue.

For users by users

From the beginning, the best editorial content has come from strong users. About a month after sending out my first solicitation, I got a reply from Ed Keefe, an Ankeny, Iowa junior college professor. He sent a welcoming note and included four dense, single-spaced pages of tips about the HP110. I promptly asked if he could contribute to the first issue, but that I couldn't pay him. He agreed and wrote articles in each of our HP publications from 1985-1999. More strong end users contributed—from the start, our strongest content has come from our readers. (That tradition continues. To participate in iPhone Life or iPhoneLife.com, check out iphonelife.com/share).

Last month, I got the sad news that Ed passed away. Ed was a kind, decent, intelligent man loved by all those who knew him.

Rich Hall

A few years into The Portable Paper, Rich Hall walked in off the street wanting to know if we had an opening for an editor. I had been editing the newsletter myself and then had unsuccessfully turned the job over to someone else. Rich has now worked with me for 23 years. He has the gift of turning sometimes overly technical or not so well-written submissions into readable, informative prose that never talks down to the reader. Rich has stayed with me through thick and thin. In more ways than one, there would not be an iPhone Life without Rich.

HP Palmtop and the 1990's

HP Palmtop Paper

In 1991, the same HP calculator division introduced the HP95LX DOS Palmtop. By 1993, the later generation HP 200LX Palmtop was a fully DOS compatible PC with a built-in powerful spreadsheet: Lotus 1-2-3, a multi-purpose database program, a PIM, a word processor, and an extraordinarily powerful useable calculator.

In the 1990's, after HP dropped its portable line, we began publishing The HP Palmtop Paper. HP built our company and our 800 number into the HP 200LX Contacts program. That number still works. Today, we continue to refurbish, sell, and service these ever-popular units at palmtoppaper.com, where the back issues of The HP Palmtop Paper reside.

Microsoft and the 2000's


In 1998, the general manager of the HP division producing palmtops introduced us to Microsoft. Microsoft's plan was to replicate its success with Windows, creating a standard mobile operating system that many different manufacturers including HP would adopt. HP liked the idea because it saw it as a way to move PDAs from a niche to the mainstream market. From 1998-2008, we published Handheld PC, Pocket PC, Smartphone & Pocket PC, supporting Microsoft users. (As Microsoft rebranded, we changed the name.)

Apple and the iPhone

First iPhone Life isueThroughout the early 2000's, Microsoft pioneered the smart phone, an app development platform, and the tablet. However, Microsoft and its partners were never able to breakthrough and take these devices to the general market. It was Steve Jobs and Apple with their 100 percent focus on the end user experience that made the iPhone and iPad mainstream products. As Microsoft Windows Mobile imploded and iPhone took off, it became obvious that to survive and thrive we needed to switch platforms. Hence, we began iPhone Life in 2008.

Playing with the big guys: HP, Microsoft, and Apple (NOT)

We are small fish, directly and indirectly partnering with giant technology companies on the leading edge of mobile computing. We have provided a service to these companies. Each issue serves as one long advertorial for the platform: we make existing users stronger and more enthusiastic, and we introduce possibilities to potential customers.

Partnering with these companies has been one of the most interesting, enjoyable, and frustrating aspects of these 26 years. I often worked directly with HP and Microsoft engineers and marketers, developing win-win strategies including guest columns and distribution of our magazine to trade shows and key clients. Thus far, Apple remains unhelpful and non-communicative. We look forward to that changing.

More acknowledgements

I have met many wonderful, interesting, and creative people over the 26 years, including folks from Microsoft and HP, software and accessory developers, employees, and our awesome volunteer staff of writers and bloggers. I'll mention just a few of the individuals who have been with us for many years and have made extraordinary contributions.

We hired Marge Enright in the 90's to do customer service. Marge is such a kind and supportive person that I would find her talking to "regulars" who would call in every month just to speak to her. When we started iPhone Life in 2008, we moved Marge to advertising sales. She has done a great job transferring her interpersonal skills to support our advertisers.

Seventeen-year-old Nathan Clevenger approached us 12 years ago, wanting to write for Pocket PC magazine. To this day I am not sure how he did it, but somehow, at a very young age, he became an expert about the use of mobile computers in large organizations. He has written for us ever since, and now is the chief editor in the "At Work" and "Creating Apps" portions of iPhone Life.

Todd Bernhard wrote for The HP Palmtop Paper in the 90's and resurfaced, writing many iPhone Life cover stories. Nate Adcock has been with us since Smartphone & Pocket PC, blogging and writing terrific content for both magazines. Tracy Sebastian, a relative newcomer, has made outstanding contributions to iPhone Life. Todd, Nate, and Tracy have volunteered to cover iOS products for us at trade shows. Each has been incredibly helpful in many ways. In addition, there have been so many staff and volunteers who have contributed over the years. Please read Rich Hall's list of contributors and staff on page 4. I thank each one of you. 

Layout king Al Constantineau pointed out, after he initially formatted this article, "what about me". OOPS! I should have definitely included Al. For more than 10 years Al has efficiently, effectively and colorfully laid out issue after issue on time, enduring the inevitable stress that comes from deadlines and too many last minute cooks. So to the many people I failed to acknowledge including David Seagull, Wayne Kneeskern, Brian Teitzman, and Larry Baldozier, please accept my thank you and apology.

Turning iPhone Life over to a younger generation

All this was a long-winded introduction to announce that, while I will still write this column, I am retiring from the day-to-day operations of running iPhone Life. I am turning over the magazine and website to three of the most dedicated, intelligent, creative young people I've ever met. They will bring their 20-something perspective to the magazine, while infusing energy and new thinking into our website and other digital properties. I believe you will be better served as new CEO, David Averbach, davida@iphonelife.com, Managing Editor, Alex Cequea, alex@iphonelife.com, and Webmaster, Raphael Burns, raphael@iphonelife.com take over. Send them or me your feedback, both good and bad, over the coming months and years.

Full circle

With so much change this past quarter of a century, so much remains the same. On the personal level, after 26 years of the ups and downs of running this small business, I once again look forward to more meditation. On the computing level, mobility for the HP calculator division meant an intuitive user interface, powerful features, long battery life, and a self-contained, solid-state hardware design. The major difference now is that the HP110 and HP Palmtop were stand-alone computers, and thanks to cellular networks and the Internet, the iPad and iPhone are also communication and connectivity devices.

My final thank you is to you, the reader, who inspired us all and sustained us these many years.

September-October 2011
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