Introduced 10 years ago, the original Palm device, the PalmPilot 1000, entered a fragmented PDA market and followed a succession of failed pen-based computing platforms.
But, by marrying the pen to the PDA and providing a simple design at a low cost, Palm Computing (now just Palm) succeeded where others had failed.
In the years since, Palm devices have come and gone—and eWEEK Labs (known as PC Week Labs when the Palm platform was first introduced) has reviewed them all. Some broke new ground, while others landed on the scene with a resounding thud. We remember the good, the bad and the (literally) ugly.
Back in 1996, the first Palm PR outreach involved sending evaluation units to pundits like PC Weeks John Dodge rather than to reviewers. Labs got a PalmPilot 1000 several months after the commercial introduction, and we quickly concurred with Johns assessment: Simple, inexpensive, more efficient than paper, the PDA was reborn.
Released in 1998, the Palm IIIs ability to exchange business card data through an infrared beam was the devices most talked-about feature, but it also proved to be the least-used.
In fact, we never used it, and never saw anyone else use it, either. Now offered by 3Com (which acquired US Robotics, which had acquired Palm Inc.), the Palm III focused on upgradeability, with the Palm 3.0 operating system stored in flash memory.
Palm IIIx and Palm V
When we noted that 1999s Palm V would be the version everyone coveted, what we really meant was that we didnt want to give up our evaluation unit be-cause we coveted it.
The Palm IIIx, meanwhile, included more memory for business applications such as CRM (customer relationship management), while the Palm Vs optional modem could transmit data using cellular phones (starting the inevitable move to wireless).
The Palm VIIs integrated wireless and data plans proved more prescient than useful. Using two AAA batteries and cellular networks that werent yet ready for prime time limited the Palm VIIs appeal, but it marked the start of pervasive data plans for wireless carriers.
The data plan pricing is an interesting curiosity: $9.99 a month for 50KB of data (about 150 screens) or $24.99 for three times that amount of data. Eight years later, can we get an “amen” for unlimited data plans?
Palm IIIc and Palm m100
By 2000, Palm had been spun out of 3Com and was refining the product line around features and price to appeal to different kinds of buyers.
Next Page: And then came smart phones.
And Then Came Smart
The Palm IIIc added color at a hefty price tag, while the Palm m100 hit a $150 price point in a smaller, and not very usable, form-factor.
Smart phone pioneers and HandEra 330
While Palm threw spaghetti at the wall in 2000, competitors that had licensed the Palm OS readied products for 2001 that attacked the same niches and developed new ones.
Handspring and Kyocera both married the cellular phone with the Palm OS in clever ways. HandEra improved on the Palm with the HandEra 330s bigger screen and supported Secure Digital, CompactFlash and MultiMedia Card expansion cards.
Treo 180 and Palm i705
Once computer users became accustomed to all-the-time Internet access, we began expecting that sort of connectivity to follow us onto anything that calls itself a computing device.
The Handspring Treo 180 and the Palm i705 took tentative steps in this direction, but we blame the slowdown weve seen in PDA sales on the fact that, connectivity-wise, weve seen rather little improvement since these units hit the market.
Wireless carriers: Get used to the idea of unwalling your gardens and tossing out your by-the-minute meters, and subscribers will follow.
Zire and Tungsten
Higher resolution displays, Bluetooth connectivity and a spiffy new 32-bit OS marked Palms Zire and Tungsten devices, which delivered better on the personal digital assistant duties in which fewer people seemed to be interested.
The sweetest fruit born of Handsprings spin-off and subsequent reintegration with Palm has been the line of Treo smart phone devices, which, having shed their early flip-phone form factor, have grown into fairly mature and even cross-platform-connected digital assistants.
The latest Treo, the 700w, is outshone by its Palm OS-powered 650 sibling, but the 700w offers choice by running the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system.
While Palm devices initially came in through the back door at most corporations, the platforms impact has been significant.
Companies buy the latest Palm devices in bulk, bundling voice and data services that make it easier for mobile professionals to book orders and service customers without a notebook PC.
We look forward to testing the next 10 years worth of Palm devices.
Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at email@example.com.