The ElitePad 900, ENVY x2 and a History of HP Innovation

The second that I saw the new ElitePad, with its new Smart Jacket-interface, I had flashbacks to other awesome portables to come out before the modern age of all-metal design – back to some innovations that HP pioneered with the iPAQ. Then there’s something like the highly-anticipated ENVY x2 Hybrid PC and its ancestor – the TC1000. What? You don’t recall the original iPAQor the TC1000? Well, Captain Short Attention Span, let’s take a quick virtual walk down memory lane to help you realize what HP created in the mobile computing space.

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The Silver Age: The iPaq
It was 1999 and I was playing with my first iPAQ (It wasn’t on the market yet at that point). It was by far the slickest, sleekest PDA (Personal Digital Assistant – remember those?!?! Before every phone became, “smart.”) I’d ever seen. It stood out to me for two big reasons: First, the all-metal, silver case was a standout piece of modern art in tech form. It was solid. It was smooth. When I whipped out this particular PDA, it impressed people. Aside from the thumbpad and four face-buttons, this stylus-driven PDA was incredibly minimalist. See? People had sleek, aluminum high-tech gear well over a decade ago.


Then there was the iPAQ jacket concept which I thought was an ingenious design touch. Seriously. Back then, I was a journalist, reviewing these sorts of products all the time. The notion of a solid metal device with an interface that let you just plug in whatever you needed on the outside was a no-brainer. I loved the fact that if I needed an extra-big battery, there was a sleeve for that. When I had a HUUUGE 32MB(!!) CompactFlash card, there was a sleeve for that as well. So when we started showing off the ElitePad internally, my mind jumped back to this. What I like about the first jacket I saw for the ElitePad – it’s a portable port replicator that slots into place around the tablet to go with you. Pretty handy if you don’t want to be tied down by a docking station. Ever. Want to plug in additional battery power? There's a jacket for that. Need your tablet rugged enough to take a beating, there's a sleeve for that as well. Of course, since the ElitePad is essentially the business tablet, expect to find Smart Jackets to handle a wide variety of jobs.
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A Hybrid PC ahead of its time: The TC1000
Recently, I recounted the tale of a software engineer who complimented the ENVY x2 for its design and ability to use Intel’s new Clover Trail CPU to whip through a new operating system. Sure, I’m excited to play with the whole “Is it a laptop? Is it a tablet? It’s Both!” nature of the ENVY x2. However, HP trailblazed down this road once before…with the TC1000 way back in the early 2000s.


CNET at the time dubbed it, “the chameleon of tablet computing….squeez[ing] three computers into one ingenious design. It starts as an extremely small, light, slate-style tablet PC, with a superior stylus...Snap on the keyboard for a thin-and-light notebook with a superb three-hour battery runtime. Then dock it, and voilà--a desktop unit.” Back then, the TC1000 started off its life with a Transmeta Crusoe processor. But its next iteration – the TC1100 – showed up on the scene with a Pentium M processor (it needed that extra speed boost) and integrated Wacom digitizer.


I actually chatted with my buddy, HP’s Kevin Wentzel, about this recently (He has the TC1100 model): “I still love the idea of the tc1100 we had in the early 2000s – a Tablet with pen and PC with keyboard. I used one for several years as a work machine. I loved being able to hold it in my lap and do email. People NOTICED when they got a handwritten reply. (I heard, "didn't know you could do that in Outlook!" a lot…!) It was practical too, though. I took all my notes at CES one year handwritten instead of typed. Handwriting was searchable, so I saved it as ink, but you could easily read and search for stuff you wrote.” Pretty neat, right?


Why this little flashback episode? While people get excited for every “next big thing” that we release, I wanted to remind you of a couple other awesome origins for what you’re seeing today. If anything, looking at these designs show that HP’s been heading this way for quite some time. When you look at what we’re doing now, just imagine what we have coming up next!


All right, now raise your hand if you actually remember the iPaq or the TC1000 – or used either. Do you have any fond iPAQ or TC1000 stories of your own? How about some other, old piece of tech that came out of HP’s design teams? We’d love to read yours in the comments.

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