A Look Back At Palm

Remember Palm? It's the end of an era for a company that once defined the mobile device business.
While HP dropped the name Palm from its recent devices after acquiring the company in 2010, the name is still associated with the webOS platform and, for several years, the name Palm was synonymous with a PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant. In the early 2000's, it didn't matter what brand of device you may have owned, most people would say, "Oh, you have a Palm Pilot." It is like calling all tissue paper Kleenex.

Palm wasn't the first to launch the PDA, but they were the first to get it right. The Palm Pilot 1000 was launched in March of 1996 and came with a 16-MHz processor and 128-KB of RAM. It introduced a new way to enter data via its Graffiti input method and finally allowed people to move about and keep things like contacts, appointments, and other bits of info with them at all times. Back then, you had to be pretty high up in the organization to get a laptop, and even if you had one, they were slow and bulky. The Palm Pilot fit in your pocket and was lighting fast at getting info for you.

Devices like the Palm III, V, and the wireless VII were released in subsequent years, each one bringing in a new wave of employees sneaking a copy of Palm Desktop on their PC so they could sync their work data with their new PDA.

Other companies like Sony, TRG, and even a company called HandSpring that had some key Palm founders in it, created products that licensed PalmOS. Palm purchased HandSpring for its successful Treo line of phones, but the products from other companies all fell by the wayside. After a disastrous decision to sell off its operating system division in 2003, it reacquired the rights to PalmOS in 2005 and decided to refocus its efforts as a reunited company.

PalmOS was old and in dire need of replacement. Palm tried with PalmOS 6, code named Cobalt, but it wasn't picked up by a single hardware maker, including Palm itself. Palm actually licensed Windows Mobile 5 and 6 from Microsoft to run on some of the Treo phones. Then, in 2009, it launched webOS, a whole new operating system that would go toe to toe with the iPhone.

WebOS launched exclusively on Sprint in the Palm Pre. Sales were modest and by 2010, the company put itself up for sale. That is where HP comes in and where we are today.

HP claims it will look at licensing opportunities or other methods to keep webOS alive, but the reality is, it is game over. There are no devices planned for the operating system and what company would jump in and start making phones or tablets when HP's cash and other resources couldn't make a dent in the mobile market?

That just leaves four major players--iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7. This year we saw the exit of the other two, Symbian, and now webOS.

What was your first mobile device? Chances are, it had Palm in the name.

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing