After buying the Franco-American CIE Friends Amis (Amis means Friends in French) and their hand held computer project, Matsushita manufactured the computer and sold it under Panasonic (RL-Hxx series) and Quasar (HK-2600TE) brand names. About 70.000 Panasonic systems were sold.
The system was mainly conceived to run custom software developed by third companies. For this reason, it didn't included powerful built-in software or languages but featured an universal expansion port able to manage several peripherals simultaneously, and three ROM chip compartments. Examples of available software are: Portawriter, Telecomputing 1-2-3, File Exchange, Portacalc, Portaflex (store management), Portabudget, Portabroker, Porta Bid, Portastock, Portalog, Portasales, Portaservice, Portaaudit, etc.
The system featured SNAP, an interpreted programming language, close to Forth and not really easy to learn. Hopefully, a light version of the Microsoft BASIC interpreter ROM could be added.
The HHC (for "Hand Held Computer") had great success in USA, mainly in insurance companies thanks to a built-in custom insurance calculation application dedicated to claim adjusters and travelling salesmen who could make any insurance quotation and print it, anywhere, anytime. Few systems were sold in other countries.
The picture shows a system with a Printer/Cassette interface attached. User had to buy it to save programs files on tape! The printer used a small roll of thermal paper of 75 mm wide. It printed 16 chars. per line at a speed of 24 chars./second.
Graphic possibilities were available as an option, as well as a TV video interafce which enabled the HHC to be connected to a TV through a scart connector. The HHC could then display 32 x 16 characters in text mode (character matrix 5 x 7), or 128 x 64 with 8 colors in semi-graphic mode or 128 x 128 with 4 colors in graphic mode.
EPROM expansion board, by Tom Klein
When working for FIPSCO - a life insurance marketing software producer - we designed a EPROM expansion board. It was housed in a one-inch thicker tray and interfaced between the printer and compueter, adding about 1 inch to the length. The main unit would only hold 4-8K EEPROMs but the address space for each "slot" was for 16K. So we put 8-64K EEPROMS in crimp molds into sockets in the expansion box. Each chip looked like 4 to the OS.
By doing this we could hold more rates and product illustration software, reducing the requirement the agent "change chips" in front of the customer. Turns out Motorola had a lock on the 8K chips and the 64K were less expensive.
We could illustrate and print one insurance illustration faster than a 286 at the time. And it fit in the briefcase.
The expander box kept the unit in the field for an extra 3 to 5 years until laptops became reliable, powerful and affordable.
Curt Benjamin adds:
Many two-way radio shops still use the Panasonic HHC (part of the GE TQ-2310 "suitcase" programmer) to program GE two-way radios. Our shop still has a working one although it has since been replaced by a DOS program and radio interface box. More info here.