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The HP-85: iPhone of the 1980s

On Friday we reported a new iPhone app that makes it easier to start a small business. The idea that a small, portable computing device could help grow a concept into company isn't a new one; in fact, it was the genesis of HP's marketing campaign for their early 1980s PC, the HP-85.

While you could call the HP-85 a forerunner of today's notebooks, an iPhone comparison seems oddly more appropriate. The HP-85 had a five-inch "high resolution" screen, to the iPhone's 3.5" of full-color glass. And like Apple with its dead-simple iPhone frameworks, HP boasted "Application Pacs" full of "preprogrammed solutions in a wide variety of disciplines" aimed at scientists, engineers and business people who wanted to build their own custom data-crunching programs in the easy-to-learn BASIC language. It was not unlike Apple's D-I-Y oriented iPhone SDK, which caters to aspirational developers.

Starting in 1979, you could snag yourself an HP-85A for about $3,200; for your money, you got 16K of RAM, a 256x192 screen, tape drive, integrated printer, and 12-digit keypad—all in a 20-pound enclosure designed for "portability."