What happened to Palm PDAs, the missing link of smartphones that shone in the 90s

Today it sounds almost like a mester of minstrelsy, but there was a time, decades ago —not so many, actually—, in which the opposite happened to telephones than now: they had a lot of phones and little of smarts. If you wanted a “smart” device, one with tools to help you organize your contacts and prevent you from forgetting your cousin’s birthday or that last-minute Wednesday appointment with the dentist, you had another tool: the personal digital assistant (PDA).

If the ’90s and early 2000s caught you at the right age—that and with enough money in your pocket—you probably remember them all too well. Also that there was a time when talking about PDA was almost synonymous with doing it from Palmone of the brands without which the consumer technology of 20 years ago can hardly be understood.

Palm is a magnificent example of the accelerated changes that technology underwent in the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century and, incidentally, how some silicon valley business chronicles they have little to envy the script of Game of Throneswith sales, splits, reunions, ruptures, golden years and falls into oblivion, disappearances and rebirths.

Doubly pioneer

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In the case of Palm we are left with a curious reading: it was a pioneer of PDAs and smartphones and its devices can be considered almost the missing link Between both. True, it was not the first, nor the only one —the Psion Organizer dates from 1984—, but achieved indisputable fame.

The most complex in the company’s long history began in 1992 with the help of donna dubinsky, Edward Colligan and above all of Jeff Hawkinshis authentic “father” and who had previously accumulated significant experience in the ranks of the company GRiD Systems. By the early 1990s, Hawkins had developed PalmPrint, a handwriting recognition program, and embarked on the PalmPrint project. zoomer with the multinationals Tandy, Casio and GeoWorks.

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Zoomer’s experience was complex and the device was forced to fight against apple newton; But that didn’t deter the Palm team from the potential of portable digital assistants. After shaping Graffiti and integrating with USRobotics, in March 1996 the company launched its first PDA: the Palm Pilot, a product that allowed it to combine its own hardware and software and that over time would make the brand launched by Hawkins almost a universal synonym for PDA.

Pilot and the first Palm devices were comfortable, practical: they fit perfectly in one hand and could be easily put in a bag or pocket. They also had 128 KB of memory (Pilot 1000), a capacity that rose to 512 KB in the Pilot 5000. As Low End Mac points outThey ran Palm OS 1.0 and had a 160×160 pixel screen. That mix convinced and during its first two months the company managed to sell about 10,000 Pilots.

It was the starting signal for what was to come: in the years following that first model, it was followed by the PalmPilot Personal and Professional, Palm III, V, VII, VX, IIIc, Palm m100, Zire… The technicians at The company developed new versions while Palm gained fame and little by little improved its features, with more memory, speed, infrared and wireless communication, removable batteries and even color screens, with the Palm IIIc in 2000.

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Palm’s products were gaining popularity. Its range was reinforced in features, attractiveness – you may remember the aluminum casing of the Palm V – and even outlined the price policy, adopting decisions such as reducing costs in Zire through a monochrome screen and without backlighting. It also improved its system, which with Palm OS 3 began to offered to other manufacturers.

In Palm’s offices, however, there were as many novelties as in its catalogue.

With the turn of the millennium Palm became an independent company listed on the stock exchange and only two years later, in 2002, established a subsidiary to develop and market its OS, PalmSource. The biggest change, however, probably happened in mid-1998, when Hawkins and Dubinksy agreed to pack up, resign and start a new company: Handspring. The reason? The decision came after several clashes over the direction the company was taking under the direction of 3Comthe firm that had acquired USRobotics.

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Handspring – which would eventually become one of the main licensees of Palm OS – wasted no time in releasing Visor, a device that was well received by the press, with two lower-end versions cheaper than Palm’s own and improved PIM software. Two months after launch —notes Low End Mac— Handspring was already done with about 28% of the market of portable devices and a little later it went public.

The competition evolved.

And the industry.

At the end of 1998 it reached the technological market Qualcomm pdQ, the first Palm PDA that integrated a telephone. Not long after, the ViewerPhone Y Treo.

Times were changing and in 2003 Palm took another two unexpected turns. Or not. The first was the merger of Palm and Handspring. The second, just as momentous and in the opposite direction, the decision to turn PalmSource into an independent firm. Hardware and software were divided. And the company, in a way, resumed the scenario that had marked the development of Zoomer.

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Palm’s efforts to keep improving its products got a boost with the new generation of hardware and the Palm OS. The Palm Tungsten, Zire, Treo —Palm brand after the merger with Handspring— followed one another… and the company even starred in some movement that still surprises today. As a result of the decision of 2003 that separated the branch of software and hardware, in 2006 a Palm was launched that instead of the OS of the house incorporated Windows Mobile 5.0: the Treo 700w.

Times kept changing, however, and not long after, at the beginning of 2007, Apple presented the iPhone and marked a before and after in mobile telephony. Palm put up a fight with his Center. Within a few years the market had turned around. And with it the taste, needs and customer service. Fewer and fewer buyers were interested in the Palm PDA and the features it could offer. In 2008 there were stores where they were no longer found and at the end of that same year the company announced that it would no longer develop new conventional PDAs.

That gadget that years ago had triumphed and won the favor of the public, was simply displaced by the new mobiles and his growing fan of functionalities.

One of their last PDAs was the Palm Tx, launched in 2005 and still in production until early 2009. Was that the end of Palm? No. The company would pass through the hands of HP, its brand ended up in the power of TCL and in 2018 it revived to present a small Android device.

But that is another story.

Images | Albertas Agejevas (Flickr) Y Tomas J. Sepulveda (Flickr)

Today it sounds almost like a mester of minstrelsy, but there was a time, decades ago —not so many, actually—,…

Today it sounds almost like a mester of minstrelsy, but there was a time, decades ago —not so many, actually—,…

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