Friday, June 3, 2016

the amazing palm pilot

Before the iPhone, before Microsoft's "Pocket PC", but after the Newton... there was Palm.

For nostalgic purposes, I recently ebay'd up an original Pilot 1000 - back before they even had backlights, with 128K of memory. (Admittedly, that was a bit cramped even for the era.)

Every once in a while I fantasize about disconnecting and going back to this PDA - and while forcing a social media disconnect and getting over my need to always be available is tempting, going back to a time when I had to have separate gadgets for photos, GPS, and music seems a bit too far.

Still, for juggling notes, my datebook, and TODOs, I could totally be content with a gadget like this. There's something so comforting about scratching out letters with the stylus. The "Graffiti" writing system was pretty great, and sometimes I still draw my 'E's using its backwards-3 approach:

(It's a real shame Xerox won its bogus lawsuit, saying its "one stroke, easy for a computer to recognize" system was ripped-off by Palm... I mean look at this junk:
who could ever remember that? And so Palm replaced Graffiti with Graffiti 2, a generally inferior system that bedeviled people who had internalized the original characters.)

The best resource I dug up this round of exploring the device's history was the PalmPilot page at the Computer History Museum. I had heard of, but never seen a picture of, Jeff Hawkins' wooden prototype:
Chopstick Stylus Included!
Also intriguing, a prototype for a keyboard-based Pilot:
Given the later (albeit impermanent) popularity Blackberry by offering keyboard devices this model provokes some "what-if" thinking. Like the museum's Jeff Hawkins video explains, the pen wasn't the point, but simplicity, portability, and connectivity were. It succeeded where the more capable Newton failed by getting more of those factors right.

Palm: The Rise and Fall of a Legend was another good history I found, and How Did We Get to the iPhone is well worth the 99-cent admission fee, covering an even wider swath of gadgets such as the Psion.

Heh, maybe next time I should talk about the Game Boy or the Etch-A-Sketch Animator, two other gadgets that made brilliant use of that chrome-ish, big-pixel technology.

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