Does Anyone Remember Palm?

Lisa is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

Don't forget that before the "tablet wars" we had the PDA wars. From where I was standing more than 15 years ago Palm (now owned by Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ)) was a frontrunner. And where is it now?

In 1996 I was working as a graduate assistant in the dean's office of a top tier public university. The dean traveled a lot and wanted to purchase a PDA. He was most impressed at the time with the Palm handheld, but he was also willing to explore other options. As a student of instructional technology, I had the pleasure of investigating myriad devices before reporting back to him. His administrative assistant would buy a device, I would experiment with it for a few days then I would provide the dean with a demo. He wanted to know things like how to synchronize with his computer, how to use additional accessories like a fax/modem (yes, I said modem, this was pre-WiFi), and how to check his email.

We explored devices such as the Sharp Wizard made by Sharp Corporation (OTC: SHCAY) and even dabbled with the first generation of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows CE on Casio's (OTC: CSIOY) Cassiopeia (if you feel a little nostalgic you can view a photo and read an old review). This latter device captured my attention as it had all the elements of a miniature computer, or Pocket PC if you prefer. In the end, however, he settled on Palm and I became the go-to person for Palm setup as department chairs and faculty adopted the device.

As I moved into my professional life as an educator I continued to use and promote the Palm. It showed a lot of potential in schools and was becoming increasingly popular. Similar to the apps of today there were free and for-purchase software applications to expand the Palm’s potential in the classroom, and there were a number of accessories available. For example, the "universal" connector made it compatible with probeware from Pasco Scientific, Inc. and ImagiWorks, Inc. (acquired by Pasco in 2004) for science classrooms, and the use of software like Dibels (a literacy assessment application) was increasing in popularity. Plus, kids (and adults, like myself) loved to "beam" files and programs from one device to another. There was great potential for Palm to grow in education-related sales ... but there were multiple snafus that removed this market potential.

First, Palm abandoned their "universal" connector for a USB connection, which sounds like a smart move on the surface, but in the end third-party vendors like Pasco and ImagiWorks were unprepared for the move and their accessories were no longer compatible. Second, Palm stopped producing the PDA in favor of the smartphone, leaving schools with no way to buy new or replacement devices.

For a while, in the mid-1990s it seemed like a new PDA was around every corner. Some were here and gone in an instant, while others lingered and morphed into today’s smartphones and tablets. The “tablet wars” are much the same. Every time I walk into an electronics store I’m anxious to see who else is vying for a share of the tablet market. I glance through the displays and reminisce, and I know that they won’t all last. Everyone knows it.

Yesterday's front page of USA Today (July 6, 2012) featured an article titled, “Tablet wars heat up with mini iPad.” Just last week Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) presented the Nexus shortly after Microsoft revealed Surface. According to the article, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) OS devices already have 62.5% of the tablet market. With all of the other options already available it would seem that both Google and Microsoft are more than a little late for the show. Demitri Kalogeropoulos on the Motley Fool Blog Network recently offered 3 Surprises from the Table Wars discussing some unique elements of Surface, Nexus, and iPad. While Surface piques my curiosity and I’m anxious to take a look, I’m already quite attached to my iPad, and I know many schools have already moved in that direction.

As for Palm, HP invested $1.2 billion in the acquisition of Palm, Inc. in 2010 (according to an April 2010 HP News Release). And today, the remains of this former frontrunner can be viewed in a December 9, 2011 blog post on The Official HP Palm Blog site. Employee Jon Zilber states, “With the goal of ensuring that the webOS platform will continue to evolve in new and creative ways, HP announced today its plan to contribute both webOS and the Enyo application framework to the open source community.” While I’m a fan of open source, I have to say, what a way to go. It really makes me wonder which new innovation in tablet computing will be next.


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