Long before its rebirth in 2018, the pioneering technology brand flourished—then foundered.
Jeff Hawkins launches Palm Computing, which helps create the Casio Zoomer, a rival to Apple’s Newton “Personal Digital Assistant.” The company also devises Graffiti, a simplified handwriting-input system, which it sells as add-on software for the Newton.
Now part of modem maker Usrobotics (itself swallowed by 3Com in 1997), Palm releases its own PDA, the $299 Pilot. Small, affordable, and— above all—easy to use, it’s the industry changing blockbuster that the Newton and Zoomer were not.
Palm execs Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky, and Ed Colligan depart to found Handspring, which licenses Palm’s software for its own PDA, the Visor. When Palm acquires Handspring in 2003, it gets the execs back—along with Handspring’s Treo, the best smartphone of its era.
Palm releases the Palm V, whose sleek aluminum case makes earlier Palm Pilots look like plasticky Fisher-price toys. “The goal was beauty,” Hawkins later explains. “Beauty, beauty, beauty.” Perhaps the most lustworthy pre-iphone handheld device, it’s a smash.
Pursuing a Microsoftlike software licensing strategy, Palm rebrands as Palmone and spins out its software arm into a company called Palmsource. The gambit disappoints, prompting Palm to revert later to its original name and reacquire perpetual rights to its own platform.
The smartphone era is well underway, and Palm is a leader. The Treo 650 may be the hottest model of the moment, boosted by its impressively expansive software library: 20,000-plus apps that let users do everything from crunch spreadsheets to zap aliens.
Bowing to the corporate world’s predilection for Microsoft products, Palm introduces a Treo that runs Windows Mobile. The company continues making Palm OS– based Treos, but after years of heated battle with Microsoft, embracing Windows feels like spiritual surrender.
Palm founder Hawkins proudly demos the Foleo, a laptoplike shell for the Treo. Though clever, it’s a distraction from the smartphone wars—which, with the iphone’s arrival, are entering a new phase. Palm kills the Foleo without ever having shipped it.
At the annual CES gadget-palooza in Las Vegas, Palm reveals the Pre, a smartphone based on an all-new operating system called WEBOS. The software is gorgeous and innovative. The Pre, however, is initially available only on Sprint and never threatens the iphone and Android.
Weakened by the Pre’s lackluster reception, Palm sells itself to HP for $1.2 billion. The computing giant says it plans to launch phones, tablets, PCS, and other products built around WEBOS, but barely releases anything before shuttering the business in August 2011.