The Evolution of the Palm (pda)

By: David Wood

Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) run Palm OS and the Windows Mobile platform. In recent years, they have evolved from PDAs to smartphones that also run both Palm OS and Windows Mobile.

The first generation of personal digital assistants produced by Palm Computing in 1996 were named Pilots. Palm was a division of U.S. Robotics at the time. For two generations, these PDAs were called PalmPilots. Pilot Pen Corporation took Palm to court on trademark issues, so since 1998, they have been called Palm Connected Organizers or just Palms. However, PalmPilot is used to refer to all PDAs just as Kleenex means any kind of facial tissue for most people.

Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky, and Ed Colligan, founders of Palm Computing, invented the Pilot. They were working on handwriting recognition software, but as they researched and worked on the creation of the software, they came to the conclusion that they should be working on better hardware. Hawkins carried around a piece of wood the size of the handheld device they were envisioning in his pocket for a week. Most people feel that Palm benefitted from attempts by other manufacturers to come up with a handheld computing platform such as those by Go Corporation and Apple Computer.

Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000, the first ones, had a serial communications port; however, they had no infrared port, backlight, or flash memory. The 1000 had 128kB of RAM; the 5000, 512kB. They ran on a version of Palm OS. Eventually, the original Pilots could be upgraded to 1 MB of internal RAM by means of an upgrade module. The inventors felt that all the Palm PDAs were to be hardware upgradable. What happened was that rather than upgrading capability, external memory slots and firmware-upgradeable flash memory were added after the Palm III series.

PalmPilot Personal and PalmPilot Professional, the next two Palms, did have a backlight but no infrared port or flash memory. The Personal had 512 kB of RAM; the Professional, 1024 kB. Palm OS had also been improved to version 2.

Because of the legal disputes, Palm III and all those that followed didn't have the word Pilot in their names. An IR port, a backlight, and flash memory were added to the IIIs. Palm OS was upgraded so it could store programs or data in flash memory. Two AAA batteries powered the IIIs. They could also retain enough energy for up to 15 minutes to keep data from being erased when batteries were being replaced.

The founders left Palm and founded Handspring in June of 1998. Hawkins took with him a license for the Palm OS for Handspring. The Handspring Visor was a clone of the Palm handhelds but included a hardware expansion slot.

Palm IIIx had 4 megabytes of memory and an upgraded Palm OS (3.1). Several variations of this Palm were produced. Palm VIII had wireless connections to some Internet services in the U.S. Palm IIIc had a color screen. Palm V had internal rechargeable batteries, and this feature was included on all Palms that came after it.

In 2000, Palm Computing spun off into its own company called Palm Incorporated and later Handspring merged with it.

Palm handhelds continue to advance and today have the ability to become hard drives on computers using USB. They are also merging with smartphones. The Treo 700w combines a Palm handheld with a mobile phone, e-mail, SMS, and instant messaging.

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