Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) is such a ubiquitous term these days that it is difficult to imagine that the technology rolled out as recently as 1996. The very first PDA was manufactured by a division of U.S. Robotics called Palm Computing. Running the Palm Operation System (OS), this first edition, called the Palm Pilot, introduced personal digital organizing and made the small, handheld mobile device a must have for executives and other busy people everywhere.
Palm PDAs were invented by Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky, and Ed Colligan, who originally started Palm Computing while trying to develop handwriting recognition software. As they worked on the technology, the trio soon became more ambitious, and soon the original Palm PDA, the Palm Pilot, was born. Compared to the devices on the market today, the original Palm PDAs were primitive objects indeed. They had no backlight, flash memory or infrared port, though they did come with a serial communications port to allow for information transfer. They operated using handy touch screen technology, decreasing the need for a keyboard and increasing their technologically advanced feel. On the other hand, busy execs sometimes complained about losing the stylus recommended to operate Palm PDAs, a complaint that has disappeared now that more advanced touch screen technology is available.
All Palm PDAs from day one used the Palm OS. The original intent of Palm PDAs’ creators was that the earliest Palms, 1000 and 5000 models, would be upgradeable with all new Palm technology, and that intention held true until the advent of the third generation Palm PDA. That model, the Palm III, introduced several new technologies to Palm PDAs. It featured some upgrades older models had gone without, including an IR port, backlight, and flash memory, and conveniently ran on two standard AAA batteries and held a larger for the time 2MBs of memory. The next major advent in Palm PDA technology came with the Palm VII. This model featured wireless internet service, however it only worked within the United States.
Today, Palm PDAs have evolved into not only personal digital assistants, but Smartphones, too. New Palm PDAs like the Palm Centro, concurrently run the Palm OS and Windows Mobile Technology simultaneously, allowing busy users the best of both worlds when it comes to small, handheld digital devices. Weighing in at just 4.2 ounces, the Palm Centro is the smallest device the company has ever offered. Palm Centros are also relatively fast, as they are upgradeable up to 128 MB of memory. They run the latest version of the Palm OS, Palm 5.4.9.
Did you know that the original Palm PDAs, Palm Pilots had to change their name? That’s right, the company had to make the change after the Pilot Pen Corporation filed a lawsuit against them. Since the lawsuit, Palm PDAs have been known as Palm Connected Organizers or even simply Palms. If Pilot Pen Corporation wanted to stop the use of their name in connection with small personal organization devices, it was already too late, though. The term “PalmPilot” has now become synonymous for personal digital assistants, regardless of generation or brand, in much the same way the word Kleenex has become synonymous with tissue or Scotch Tape synonymous with household tape.
Though they do not hold as much of the market share as they once did, Palm PDAs truly did revolutionize the market for handheld organization devices. It is no wonder that cell phones, also in their early stages at the time Palm PDAs emerged on the scene, quickly began co-opting Palm features – such as address books, calendars, and other organizational tools, in order to compete.