Miraculous portable computers, ca 1982

I remember the first generation of portable computers -- the luggables -- and the intense, burning desire they aroused in my breast. Now I routinely carry four or five devices that are more powerful than the ones depicted in this 1982 (between phones, cameras, watches, laptop, etc), in a package that weighs less than the power-adapter on one of these behemoths. But I still yearn for one.

Just what is the difference between a pocket computer and some of the more sophisticated hand-held programmable calculators?

From a practical standpoint, it all depends on the type of information (data, if you will) that you manipulate. For many problems, numbers and mathematical formulas are all that are involved. And if number crunching is your game, either product may be suitable. (Astronauts, in fact, have often used programmable calculators to determine the data to be entered into on-board spacecraft computers.) Pocket or hand-held computers, however, not only allow you to crunch numbers (and in greater quantity), but to save them. You’ll also be able to save and manipulate letters and, in some cases, graphic symbols. This opens up problem solving to other-than-strictly-mathematical areas. In fact, it opens up the whole field of information storage and retrieval for virtually any purpose, from nuclear physics to household recipes.

Among the machines currently making their way to the marketplace, the two that most amply fit the criterion of pocketable are the Radio Shack TRS-80 Pocket Computer (manufactured by Sharp and also sold as the Sharp PC-1211) and the Quasar/Panasonic HHC (developed jointly by Matsushita of Japan and Friends Amis of San Francisco–those wonderful people in Silicon Valley who originally brought you the Atari video games and the Craig/Quasar/Panasonic language translator).