Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Attending the HP35 IEEE Milestone event

I had the privilege of an invitation to this singular event, held in the HP Labs cafeteria at 1501 Page Mill Road. Eighty-three people attended, including eleven of the original design team and some twenty-three family members for them and a couple of deceased contributors. It was an extraordinary event, for an extraordinary product for the world and for this venerable company's history.

Dave Cochran was the instigator of the application for the award, and it was indeed fitting that Lewis Terman was the presenter, as the outgoing IEEE President, and son of the famed Fred Terman who gave Bill 'n Dave the impetus to start HP in the first place. Cochran related that Fred, not known either for his computer knowledge or his software awareness, actually found the first bug in the HP35 prototype, a fitting tribute to the "founder of Silicon Valley" who really never had anything to do with silicon except maybe this product.

HP's press release noted that the HP35 "put HP into the consumer electronics space". This is worth putting into context -- HP had 1,600 products in the catalog after 32 years in business, none of which sold more than ten units per day. The HP35, in its fifth month of sales, sold 1,000 units per day, completely upsetting production schedules, inventory control, sales approaches (no one knew how to cash a check in the sales offices!), among other things.

The HP35 accounted for 6% of sales in its first year, and a whopping 41% of profits. Sales in the second year approached $100M, about the same as the current product line. Back then, it was 13% of the company, today the same revenue is one-tenth of 1%. The company grew 38% that year in revenue, almost double the typical growth rate of the corporation. It would stand as the highest growth year in the company's long history, and nearly 40% of that total growth came from the HP35 alone.

More importantly, it changed HP designs (with Chris Clare and Tom Whitney teaching algorithmic design methods to the entire company), HP marketing (doing "shelf-space" instead of "made-to-order"), and the perception of the world about this "little Palo Alto instrument company".


papwalker said...

it seems the 35 sold bit better than the large screen scope.
peter walker

Allen Baum said...

Damn - I wish I had heard about this. My summer job was microprogramming the HP45 calculator, so I worked with all those guys - a more impressive team than any I've worked with since, somehow (and that is not denigrating those other teams....)

chuck said...

yes, the 35 sold better than the large screen scope! And better than any of the other 1600 products in the catalog -- by a mere 100 times! But I'd already said that...
I hoped there'd be a YouTube clip of the day, but all I can find is this pointer http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2009/04/13/hp-35-scientific-cal.html

chuck said...

Allen, who all was on the HP 45 team?

papwalker said...

One of my erstwhile colleagues and best friend got an HP-45 through a student grant for his degree in mathematics around ’73 - ‘74. He’s a jovial diminutive Vietnamese guy and the 45 left him speechless at the time. It only recently died (segment decoder / driver chip failure is my guess); I have been waiting for a good one to pop-up on eBay and give it to him.
Curiously, for the last two weeks we have been studying microcoding ROMS to implement logic in home grown CPUs – co-incidence.
He’s due to ring me in about an hour and he will be pleased to hear about your ‘summer job’ efforts on his ‘45

…my earliest (and my jewel) is a brand new Dec-’83 HP-11C.
…my favorite is the 16C
…and my everyday beaten up workhorse is a 32S

We thank you, Chuck and the others for making our work sooo much easier.

peter walker