By now you’ve probably heard the news that PALM is officially part of Hewlett-Packard. If you, like many of us, started with a Palm OS device before moving on to smartphones, it’s a bittersweet ending. On the one hand, no one wanted to see Palm die, even after their slow circling of the drain for years. On the other hand, it’s an open question how Palm will do as part of HP, and whether WebOS will resurface or be absorbed into an HP Printer.
One of the original Palm-people, Donna Dubinsky, wants to remind people there’s always been something special about Palm. She recently wrote an editorial for Mercury News about “The Seven Lives of Palm computing”, where she argues there are many innovations Palm brought to the market, and how that culture will continue at HP.
The highlights of Palm’s successes, through the eyes of Donna Dubinsky:
A computer based on synchronization — first with PCs and later with the Web — rather than a stand-alone device, the norm at the time. A computer that turned on instantly with the press of a button, going against the trend of bloated software that created a slow user-experience. A large-display hand-held computer with a touch interface and no keyboard, with a new way of entering text, called Graffiti. A graphic interface for hand-helds where every pixel was analyzed to reduce steps and confusion. Prior hand-held products were character-based. The first successful mobile computing developer platform with tens of thousands of applications. The Palm V, where style and form factor were as important to users as functionality. The Web-enabled Palm VII, in which an application on the device synchronized with data in the background, as is common today. One of the first mobile browsers that could view most Web pages in a satisfactory fashion on a small display. Previous approaches were text-based and extremely limited. An integrated personal information manager where voice calls could be dialed from an e-mail message and text messages could have photos attached. The Treo smartphone, a breakthrough form factor that made the combination phone and handheld computer truly pocketable. Web OS, under the direction of Jon Rubenstein, with its unprecedented ability to integrate personal information on the Web with information on the device.
Whether or not you agree that Palm “invented” all of those concepts, it’s certainly true they pushed the envelope quite a bit, and arguably created the mainstream PDA and smartphone. It’s easy to turn them into the butt of several jokes after their later failures, but even the iPhone owes a great deal to the Palm legacy. Whether they do well under HP is still a wildcard, but it’s certainly important to remember how great they once were, and not just how far they fell.