Testing in the Palm of Labs Hands

Reviewer recounts what Palm did right, as the company's PDA platform turns 10.

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.

While reviewing that first PalmPilot device, it was easy to see what Palm got right that other makers of PDAs and pen-based computers didnt. The PalmPilot 1000 didnt have a cramped, unusable keyboard; it made navigating to other applications easy; it synchronized with users PC-based data; and, at least initially, it attempted to provide only the applications people really cared about: calendar, contacts and tasks.

Pricing also had a lot to do with Palms initial success. The PalmPilot cost only $300, so users werent risking much to get its small size and flexibility.

In addition, the Palm OS interface fit the device well, and the Graffiti handwriting recognition system required little processing power and proved easy to learn. Graffiti wasnt a substitute for a good keyboard, but it was sufficient for basic input of contact information, calendar entries and tasks.

Astute marketing helped the PalmPilot succeed. Palm fostered an aftermarket for pens, cases and hardware that improved the device through its serial interface, such as modems and keyboards. This fueled peoples urge to spend while extending the platform and shoring up some minor shortcomings.

Not that Palm hasnt hit a few bumps in the road. A number of its products have been duds, including its first foray into wireless, the Palm VII. But spinning off the software unit and licensing Palm OS ultimately resulted in a rebirth.

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.

Technical Analyst Michael Caton can be reached at michael_caton@ziffdavis.com.