Palmed Away


Palm was acquired by the 3M company and its original creators and founding geniuses moved away to found Handspring which came up with first the Visor and then, joy of joys, the Treo. The Treo 180 (or 180 g for Graffiti lovers ) was a Palm Pilot into which you could slip a GSM SIM. It had a stubby little aerial, a beautiful flip screen, guess-ahead contact dialling and many of the features we now regard as standard but which were then little short of revolutionary. It could be synced with one’s computer, and (as it iterated all the way into the Treo 600) it allowed full colour web browsing. It was a real smartphone, its battery lasted all day, you could swap SIM cards at will, Matt Damon used one in the first of the Jason Bourne movies, for heaven’s sake. Matt Damon. That’s how recent and yet how far distant the PalmOne (as Handspring became) and its PalmOS were and are.

Throughout the greater part of the first decade of the twenty-first century nothing came close. Microsoft produced the hideous, cumbersome ugly and all but unusable WinMob OS in various numbers. Nokia continued with Communicators before, sadly (for me anyway) abandoning them. Sony never quite got the P900 series right. So perfect but so flawed and so-o-o liable to crash.


Palm was IT. They made arses of themselves by producing a Treo that ran Windows. This alienated everyone who liked the simplicity and ease of the Palm OS and was the first indication that they might be losing the plot.

Then in 2007 two things happened that changed the landscape for ever. Palm produced the Foleo , a dumb terminal netbook and a month later Apple produced the iPhone. The Foleo lasted little more than three months. Apple had changed everything.

How to respond…

Palm scratched their heads and saw that multi-touch, app-rich full laden smartphones were now here to stay. They realised that WinMob was no way forward and that Apple was not about to licence anyone else to use its iPhone OS. Rumours abounded of an Open Handset Alliance, led by Google who would come up with something to answer Apple’s transformation of the market. Palm decided to devise their own challenge and it was to be in the form of devices powered by a Web based OS, in other words an operating system for smartphones whose apps were written in the same language/s that runs the world wide web. Many Google services default to web app version when you browse to them on a mobile. Amazon have just produced a web app version of their Kindle reader to get round Apple’s prohibitive policy of denying the iOS version direct click access to the Amazon store. Web apps, in other words, are far from a dead duck and an WebOS struck most commentators at the time of Palm’s announcement as an excellent and exciting idea. I certainly salivated at the thought.

The rest is history…

The Palm Pre arrived. Too late. Too small. Underpowered. You could fit two into an American office worker’s shirt pocket, for heaven’s sake. I owned a couple of Pre devices, an American CDMA and a European GSM version. I so wanted them to work. I liked a lot of what they did and how they did it. Blackberry has incorporated some of the original WebOS gestures into its Playbook, a frustrating but in some ways (to a contrarian like me) rather appealing tablet about which I might write another time.

In short, the Pre failed to catch on. It was a disaster for Palm. Their owndership of the American businessman’s shirt-pocket, which once seemed so assured, was over. More than that, the company itself was done for. Hewlett Packard bought them for $1.2 billion last year. HP announced they would integrate Palm’s WebOS into a series of hand held and tablet style devices and go at this huge and growing market with all guns blazing. They introduced the WebOS powered TouchPad less than three months ago.

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This blog was posted in Techblog

2 comments on “Palmed Away”

  1. mrgclark says:

    Enjoyed reading your list of phones. I recently bought my wife the HTC Sensation (she’s a fan of both Android and you). I only carry one, an ageing (some say ageLESS) HTC HD2 that now dual boots Windows Phone 7 and Android 2.3.5

    Sad nerds forever!

  2. El_Barto says:

    Hi Stephen

    Thoroughly enjoyed the show. Many memories of previous gadgets that I’d owned.



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