Long be­fore its re­birth in 2018, the pi­o­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy brand flour­ished—then foundered.

Fast Company - - R. - —HM


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.

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