The highs and lows of a pre-Pre Palm £499

6th Jun 2009 | 12:00

The highs and lows of a pre-Pre Palm

It's easy to forget that Palm revolutionised mobile computing


Palm has pinned its hopes of a revival on the Palm Pre, which launches in the US this weekend. It's a case of 'fingers crossed' for a company that reported a catastrophic loss of over $500 million last December and that languishes in sixth place in the smartphone sales rankings.

It's a far cry from Palm's golden years, when Palm Computing Inc. revolutionised mobile computing with a string of must-have PDAs that ruthlessly killed off the Filofax, inspired Microsoft's Windows Mobile and defeated a plucky British company called Psion. Let's rewind 17 years...

1992 Palm Computing was founded by Jeff Hawkins, an electrical engineer who'd previously worked on pen computing technology for GriD Systems.

1993 Palm's first real product was the 'Zoomer' – a $700 pen-based handheld (sold as the Casio Z-7000 and Tandy Z-PDA) that was launched just after Apple's Newton. Neither the Zoomer or the Newton were hugely successful (although the Newton is still fondly remembered).

1994 Hawkins concentrated on developing more advanced handwriting recognition technology, which he saw as key to a better user experience. The result was the speedy and surprisingly accurate Graffiti system.

1996 The Graffiti UI is built into Palm's first own-brand PDA – the Palm Pilot 1000. The Palm Pilot 1000 had a 16MHz processor, a 160x160 monochrome screen and 128K of memory – enough to hold 500 addresses and 600 appointments. Palm sold more than a million of them in the following 18 months.

Palm pilot 1000

POPULAR PILOT: The Palm Pilot 1000 quickly becomes the world's most popular e-organiser [Image:]

The Palm Pilot 1000 was followed by the Palm Pilot 5000 (boasting 512K of memory), Palm Pilot Personal and Palm Pilot Professional. After being sued by Pen Pilot over the 'Pilot' name, Palm kicked it into touch and cranked out the pithy Palm III series, super-slim Palm V and, eventually, the wireless-enabled Palm VII.

1997 3Com acquires Palm Computing.

1998 Hawkins leaves Palm Computing to form rival PDA builder Handspring. Qualcomm, meanwhile, licenses the Palm OS for its short-lived pdQ handset. Sony is equally enticed by Palm's popularity and third-party software support. It later develops the forgettable Clie series of handhelds running the Palm OS.

Sony clie

FORGETTABLE CLIE: Palm licensed its popular OS to Sony for use in its Clie PDAs [Image:]

2000 3Com floats Palm Computing as Palm Inc. Everybody makes a ton of cash as the $38 shares ride a rocket to $165 before closing at $95. But a year later, as the dotcom bubble bursts, the same shares are worth $6.50.


2002 Palm Inc. spins off its software business as a separate entity – PalmSource. It buys it back in 2005, after snapping up Jeff Hawkins and Handspring to get its hands on their Palm OS-powered Treo smartphones.

Treo 180

PHONE AND PDA: The Handspring Treo 180 – an uneasy combination of dual-band GSM phone and Palm PDA [Image:]

2002 Palm continued to develop its PDA line-up, producing the m100- and m500-series handhelds, the cheap-as-chips Zire range, and the stylish Tungsten models. But the increasing sophistication and convenience of mobile phones fast made standalone PDAs more redundant.

Tungsten t

MOBILE DOOM: Good-looking PDAs like the Tungsten T were being ignored in favour of mobile phones [Image:]

2002 So Palm put all but a few of its craziest eggs into the smartphone basket. Better (but not prettier) Treo phones followed, including: the Treo 270 (with a colour screen), the Treo 600 (in a candybar form factor), the Treo 650 (the first Treo with a camera), the Treo 700 (alternate versions of this model ran Windows Mobile) and the streamlined Palm Centro.

Palm centro

CENTRO LINE: The Palm Centro – like the Palm Treo handsets but smaller and prettier

2007 As for 'craziest eggs'... Palm boldly announced the Foleo in this year - an instant-on, Linux-powered subnotebook designed to be used with its Treo smartphones. Palm subsequently shelves development of the device – ironic considering the eventual popularity of the netbook market.

Palm foleo

FOLEO FAIL: The Palm Foleo could have kickstarted the netbook craze...

2008 Palm reports a second quarter net loss of $506.2 million and the share price tumbles off a cliff to $1.85. An injection of $100 million by private equity firm Elevation Partners keeps the company on life support.

2009 Palm drops a bombshell and takes this year's Consumer Electronics Show by storm with the announcement of the Palm Pre and webOS. Watch this space...


Liked this? Then check out How the Pre could revive Palm's fortunes

Sign up for TechRadar's free Weird Week in Tech newsletter
Get the oddest tech stories of the week, plus the most popular news and reviews delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up at

Follow TechRadar on Twitter

Palm pre mobile phones gadgets
Share this Article

Most Popular

Edition: UK
TopView classic version