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Preface > The Palm Phenomenon

The Palm Phenomenon

In the early days of computers, when a basic four-function calculator was the size of a boxcar, pocket-size computers were just a sci-fi fantasy. Nobody dreamed that by the 1990s, computers could be too small.

But that's exactly the problem with most of today's pocket computers and electronic organizers—while advances in miniaturization have resulted in tiny screens and keyboards, our eyes and fingers have remained the same size. Pocket computers are simply too small to be used regularly and comfortably. So what happens? Most people who need portable information wind up buying laptop computers; nobody wants to be stuck in a meeting, hunting and pecking with pinkies on a keyboard where the dollar sign is nowhere to be found. Sure, a few of these gadgets have found cult followings—the Newton, Psion, and Wizard, to name a few—but they're small cults.

If the concept of a palmtop computer is so flawed, why is the PalmPilot such a wild success, dwarfing the sales of all its predecessors? Simple: its designers didn't try to create a complete computer. They assumed that you already have a computer. The PalmPilot is meant to be a satellite— an add-on to your full-sized computer, that quickly gulps down your most important information into a gizmo the size of a cassette tape.

The result is an uncannily successful piece of electronics that has stunned the industry. Millions of PalmPilots have been sold. Even after two rounds of Microsoft's best Windows CE efforts, PalmPilot OS devices still represent 80% of all palmtop sales. One mail-order company is reporting sales of 100 PalmPilots per day. Universally glowing reviews continue to pour forth from nearly every newspaper, business magazine, and computer magazine in the country. PalmPilot buyers become fanatics, spreading the gospel to their friends and scrabbling at the Web looking for new tips, tricks, and software. Walk down a plane aisle on your next flight, or whip open your own PalmPilot at any convention, and you'll see what I mean: these things are everywhere, and Palm owners feel a sense of community and togetherness.

The ironic result of the PalmPilot's popularity is that the fans have begun applying this hardy little PalmPilot to tasks normally reserved for "real" computers: sending faxes, creating artwork, playing arcade games, playing music, and even browsing the World Wide Web. Despite the PalmPilot's original intention as a simple device with a single purpose (as a PC satellite), the fans—often in the form of Palm-specialized hardware and software companies—have applied it to much more demanding tasks than 3Com, the manufacturer, ever dreamed of, and found it triumphant.

Taking your PalmPilot farther: that's what this book is about.

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