25 Years Chronicling Big Companies and their Small Computers

Thaddeus-25th-AnniversaryWith the upcoming winter issue of iPhone Life, we begin our 25th year publishing magazines for users of handheld computers. The journey began in the fall of 1984, when I left my engineering position at Hewlett-Packard in California’s Silicon Valley and moved to Fairfield, Iowa to participate in a world peace project. Before leaving HP, I bought an HP 110 Portable PC, a first-of-its-kind, solid state DOS laptop that was way ahead of its time. It had excellent battery life and could be taken anywhere. I enjoyed discovering new tricks and exploring the potential of the 110—I really “connected” with it.

I needed work when I arrived in Iowa, and farming wasn’t exactly my thing. From my contacts at HP, I knew that many HP 110 users felt like I did. And based on the 110’s $3000 price tag, I thought they might be willing to spend some money to unlock its potential. Even though I knew nothing about publishing and very little about business, I decided to start The Portable Paper, a support magazine for 110 users.

That was 25 years ago, and there have been extraordinary changes in technology and in the marketplace since then. But even with these changes, we are essentially publishing the same magazine. Like the original Portable Paper, iPhone Life chronicles the fun, challenge, and intimacy of using, what is essentially, a powerful, pocket-sized computer.

The vision: handheld computing for the masses

Based on its phenomenal success with calculators, HP Corvallis (Oregon) division created the 110. And based on the experience they gained developing it, they created the HP 200LX Palmtop PC, a fully functional calculator-sized computer with a silicon chip memory. The 200LX came with built-in applications, including the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet software, a database, a word processor, PIM software, and a state-of-the-art calculator. In addition, it had the capacity to run thousands of third-party DOS software applications. It was like having the power of a desktop computer in your pocket.

HP with its Palmtop PC and, soon after, Microsoft with its Pocket PC, envisioned a world where individual and business computer users would all want one of these pocket-sized Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Unfortunately, despite ambitious mass market projections, it became increasingly obvious that the PDA was a niche product.

The “killer” technology that finally brought the features of a PDA to the mainstream market was digital cellular communications. Once the PDA took the form of a phone with applications for e-mail, text messaging, and Internet access, a wider market began adopting these “smart” phones.

Once PDAs became phones, RIM, Palm, and companies with devices based on Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS began partnering with phone companies to mass market these smart devices. However, the full-featured Windows Mobile devices were too cumbersome for the average user. Phones like the Blackberry, which had limited functionality in order to do a few things well, prospered.

When Apple introduced the iPhone everything changed. Their primary design goal was to create a great user experience. Where HP based its PDAs on its business-oriented calculator, Apple used as its base an entertainment machine—the iPod. To it, Apple added phone and Internet-related capabilities. Later, more features were added, along with the ability to install third-party apps.

An unusual publishing company

For 25 years, we have been a most unusual publishing company. We publish only one magazine at a time; we focus on a single mobile computing platform; we are located in rural America; we are an unofficial partner to industry giants; we are very small; and most of our content is provided by our readers. These have been our constants for 25 years, and they will continue with iPhone Life.

Playing with the big guys

Through the years I’ve received many comments like this: “(Apple, Microsoft, HP) must really like you. Your magazine demonstrates how devices actually get used, educating both existing and potential users. Does (Apple, etc.) help you get the word out about your magazine?” Given obvious synergies, you would think this would be a “no-brainer.” All I can say is that it’s interesting, rewarding, and sometimes frustrating to work with these companies.


In the 80’s and most of the 90’s, the legacy of Bill Hewlett and David Packard continued. Not yet driven by mass-market thinking, the HP I dealt with remained decentralized, introverted, and marketing-challenged; a premium was always placed on integrity and quality-engineered products. Yearly, I would visit engineers and marketers at the Corvallis and Singapore headquarters. HP folks were friendly and enthusiastic about our publication. From 1986-2005 HP placed our free-issue offer card in the packaging of its devices. In fact HP built our company name and phone number into the Palmtop’s Contacts program. We still support Palmtop users at palmtoppaper.com.


For 11 years through 2008, we had a publication for Microsoft Windows Mobile users. When Microsoft was focused on popularizing the Pocket PC, it partnered with us to increase magazine distribution. Later, when its leadership was more numbers rather than enthusiast oriented, it became more difficult to work with Microsoft. Throughout these ups and downs, I always enjoyed my dealings with Microsoft people. I found them extremely intelligent, surprisingly open, and available for discussion at trade shows.


Coming from DOS and Windows, I am new to the world of Apple. I had been warned that Apple does not easily extend a hand of friendship. In fact despite my many attempts, we have no ongoing editorial or marketing communications with Apple.

Even so, I look forward to working with Apple. I encourage them to use iPhone Life as an educational and marketing tool for the iPhone and iPod touch and as a way to reach out to you, our reader, Apple’s most loyal and enthusiastic customers.

The HP Palmtop, Microsoft Pocket PC and Apple iPhone
Fall 2009
Regular Departments
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