The product was originally developed by an NEC Japan telecommunications engineering team that was trying to make an inexpensive lightweight terminal for programming PABX systems. In 1988, as NEC was trying to create products to update their best selling MultiSpeed, the NEC engineering team in charge of developing personal computers showed the UltraLite to a product management team from NEC Home Electronics USA.
Tom Martin, the Vice President in charge of the group asked, "Can you make this thing run MS-DOS"? When an affirmative response was received, the NEC team knew they had a hit product on their hands.
The product was launched shortly before COMDEX in October 1988 at a gala event in New York City. It was applauded by the media, who were dying to find a small lightweight computing platform that could be used for note-taking and article writing. Unfortunately the publicity surrounding the UltraLite did nor reflect itself in consumer demand. This was due to the UltraLite's two Achilles heels ... the lack of a hard drive which prevented storage of ones work and the use of a relatively slow 8086-compatible processor when the market was moving to the 80286 class.
So although the UltraLite ushered in a new era in portable computing. Its original design as a telecommunications maintenance terminal proved to be its commercial downfall. Commercial success in that product category was not achieved until Compaq launched its LTE brand nearly 12 months later Compaq LTE.
PC Magazine featured the UltraLite on its cover in November 1988 and shortly thereafter journalists began referring to the A4 sized computer as a "notebook" to distinguish it from the larger and heavier laptops of the time.