Whatever happened to …

… the Palm Pilot?

In the middle of a very interesting reply last week, lies the inspiration for this post.  Thanks, Andy Forgrave!

Although I made use of the Palm computing handhelds when they first arrived — along with a separate mobile phone — the world changed when the iPhone arrived in Canada.

I was into the Palm when it came along.  The concept of a handheld Personal Digital Assistant really resonated with me.  Instead of taking a laptop computer along with me or, gasp, paper and pen, why not whip out this device for portable notes?  Unlike what we’ve become used to today, the Palm came with a stylus.  Every now and again, you’d have to orient the screen but it did a magnificent job of input.


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There were a few programs for the Palm but I enjoyed programming for it.  My first project was to put all the schools, addresses, and phone numbers into the device along with driving instructions to get to each school.  My superintendent at the time loved it.  It was great to instructions to get to any school (as long as you were leaving from the board office).  Programming the Palm made a great deal of sense for me.  I had a number of databases that I wanted on there.  The school database was but one.  Another one was my collection of Webquests.  I even put the entire collection of OSAPAC licensed software on there.

Then, I heard Elliot Soloway talk and I was absolutely, completely sold.  The concept of connecting science probes to the Palm opened up all kinds of opportunities to do science and mathematics differently.  In classrooms, rather than buying very expensive equipment, these affordable devices made experimenting portable and affordable.  And, going outside to do experiments was ground breaking.  I still have fond memories of a series of workshops that I did – “Palms and Probes”.

Do the experiment, snap the Palm into its cradle, synch, and everything was on your computer.  There really was a credible sense that we were looking at the future of computing in K12.

Then, as Andy notes, there was a shadow that came over this technology in the form of iPhones and Blackberrys.  Sure, you could do many of the same things but having a telephone and internet connectivity really upset the apple cart.  And, they had rechargeable batteries; no small feature.

But, there may be light ahead.  Is the Palm Pilot Ready for a Comeback?

For this Sunday, your thoughts?

  • Did you ever own a Palm?  Which one?
  • Have you ever written a program for a Palm?  How about any other handheld PDA or do you go with programs available from a company “store”?
  • Are you OK with the dropping of the term PDA and replacing it with “Smartphone”?  Or, do you see a difference in the two.

As always, please share your thoughts via comment below.  I do enjoy reading them

Do you have an idea or thought that would be appropriate for my “Whatever happened to … ” series of blog posts?

Please visit this Padlet and add your idea.  I’d love for it to be an inspiration for a post!

The complete collection of “Whatever happened to …” posts is available here.

Published by dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

4 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. Great idea for your Sunday “way back machine”! I had at least two Pilots, one that I still have, same as the one shown, and a Treeo, which was edging towards a smartphone. From there I went to a Blackberry Pearl, yes that was a mistake:)
    I loved the Pilot. At the time I was working for a weekly newspaper that served 20+ municipalities. The first thing that intrigued me and made me buy it was the ability to search. Many of the stories we did would be on a single topic that we then had to get info or comments on from many sources:
    All fire departments,
    All golf courses,
    All municipal clerks
    All agricultural societies
    No more Rolodex searches!
    Plus a cell phone! Yay!
    I really loved the desktop environment too. Moving to other devices was hard for me, without a cloud solution, you really did have to enter things in more than one place for a few years.
    I did not make programs, and likely did not know you could. I had one amazing app called Personal Money Tracker that allowed you to forecast, or view forward, your financial situation to support decision making.
    I have never liked the term Smartphone, but I prefer the functionality over a PDA. I know most of the time I only use a fraction of my iPhone’s capabilities but still on any given day I am always using the PDA functions, camera and video and Internet. And maybe gps. And speech to text.
    It’s like your earlier post on laptops – smartphones can almost do it all. But for me it all started with my Pilot:)

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  2. When I found a stylus in a junk drawer yesterday, it took my spouse and I back in time. He’s always been the early adopter at our house, and had a Dell version of the Pilot – we couldn’t remember the name. He loved it, and I liked getting to use it as navigator/passenger in the car. We were early iPad users, but late converts to the smartphone. I am slowly beginning to use my phone more and more as a PDA, but for a long time, it was just my phone.


  3. Surprisingly, even though I do not own a Smart phone, I do have a lot of experience with Palm Pilots (even though I don’t know the type). About 12 years ago, I started teaching at a new school that bought Palm Pilots and keyboards for each teacher. The idea was that we would keep notes this way and even do attendance this way. We were inserviced on how to use them, and I took a real interest. The school interest in the Palm Pilots eventually died, but I used to keep all of my notes, To Do lists, and even planning on the Palm Pilot.

    When some teachers weren’t using them, they gave me some for my classroom, and I had Kindergarten students making lists on the Palm Pilots. They loved to write on them. The Palm Pilots reminded them of their parents’ phones. Then I moved into Grades 1 and 2 and took the Palm Pilots with me. A person at the Board heard that I was using them with students, and she gave me a large collection of them that nobody else was using. It was hard to extract information from them, but my 1’s and 2’s got creative. They realized that they could use an iPod or an iPad to take photographs of what they wrote. Then they uploaded the photographs to their blogs. Some students preferred writing on them. There were less distractions than a computer. A few used the stylus, some wrote right in the Palm itself, and others used the Bluetooth keyboards. I kept these Palm Pilots for years, and for some reluctant writers, it was this outdated technology that changed things for them.

    Thanks, as always, for the weekly trip down memory lane. I’d love to know how others used these devices.



  4. I had three Palms, before trying an HP iPAQ (ugh) then the first touchscreen Nokias and finally an HTC Desire and the rest is Android history.

    My first palm was the first colour one, possibly an M3? I used my dumb phone with Infra Red to get it online occasionally, but mostly I used the sync feature to grab a load of content for offline reading on my rail commute. To this day, no platform comes close for ease of use in this manner. Modern apps tend to assume we’re always online (don’t get me started on the Feedly Android app – pure fail). But the Palm range was designed for maximum usability after a one minute sync.

    I briefly used a Zire – the first “proper” colour Palm, (M3 had a 320×240 256col screen I think!) and I remember playing some fish evolution game on it, as well as using my offline sync apps a lot.

    My last Palm was the Tungsten T2 and it rocked. Much better battery life and lightning quick. My later iPaq was much more expensive but came with the horrible Windows ActiveSync which allowed for no customisation and simply synced every 5 minutes whether I wanted it to or not. This screwed the AvantGo service so badly they pulled it off the ActiveSync platform.

    AvantGo was a now-defunct news aggregator service just for the PalmOS platform. I used the app to pull down major news websites, but only those that AvantGo had curated as cleansed feeds on their platform. No matter, I used another app (web spider or something) to pull down any other website I needed. This required knowledge of regular expressions, and was written in a new fangled language called Python so I could edit the code if I wanted! Messy, but got the job done.

    PalmOS was robust and simple, and rebuilding a device was a simple 2 minute sync, nothing today comes close. I miss my Palms!

    Liked by 1 person

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