Codex 99 put together a great look back at the introduction of the HP-35, one of the earliest scientific calculators. Not only were some skeptical of its appeal, but it sold for around $400, was kind of blocky, and spawned a number of successful spin-off models—remind you of anything? (via The Verge):
In perhaps the most famous design brief in electronics history Bill Hewlett challenged his engineers to shrink the 9100A into something he could fit in his pocket. Eventually Dave Cochran, the original HP-35 product manager, determined that it would be feasible using newly-developed integrated circuits and LEDs. A market research study, however, warned that the device would be too expensive and there was simply no market. That didn’t matter to Hewlett. He decided he wanted one and said “We’re going to go ahead anyway.”
In a radical reversal of their normal design process HP began with the physical packaging – an angled and tapered wedge – and engineered the electronic and mechanical components to fit inside. As designer Edward Liljenwald stated: “size was the overriding constraint on the design.” Indeed, no part of the design was left to chance: the texture of the plastic case, the angle of the LED display, the size, color and placement of the keys, even the rubber feet that served as battery door latches were all carefully considered…
This type of innovation and experimentation really should be a blueprint for reinventing HP.