Posted by: rolfsky | May 23, 2010

is the iPhone the spiritual successor to the Palm line?

PDAs I've loved, oldest to newest.

And what do we call these things anyway? PDAs? Handhelds?

Since 1999, I’ve had 4 devices with a touchscreen, which ostensibly keep track of what I should be doing, but usually were just a way for me to read the news.

The PalmPilot and the iPod/iPhone may not look related, but Apple owes a lot of “inspiration” to Palm. The concept of “swipe”? Palm did it first. Installable apps, check. No qwerty? Check. No multi-tasking, but fast switching? Check. No directory structure of files? Check. Clean-slate designed experience? Check.

If you think installable apps are the sole invention of Steve Jobs, think again. Palm had thousands of developers writing a myriad of apps for their platform, even if they never really grasped the concept of supporting a sanctioned app store. Because of this, various 3rd party sites sprung up to support the app market, (including individual developers), leading to a fractured marketplace.

On the far left is my venerable PalmPilot Professional. Released in 1997, it still merrily springs to life with a fresh set of 2 x AAA’s and gleefully powers the 160×160 pixel monochrome screen in the deep-purple/light-green scheme that I remember. This was my introduction to handheld computing, and the best thing about this device? Battery life. I could literally go 3 months on one set of non-rechargeable AAAs.

My Sony Clie from 2002 was a replacement for my PalmPilot, with a sharper display and more memory. Honestly, if this device had wifi, it’d still be very serviceable today. There’s even a native Facebook app and a perfectly usable web-browser which can be used to access any current mobile site.

With the iPhone, Apple brought to the table a responsive processor, delicious graphics, a refined input method, and a rationalized app store. I would say that the iPhone/iPod Touch is the spiritual successor of the Palm line, just better. I haven’t had a chance to demo a Palm Pre, but it looks like that’s what they were going for.

On the far right is my latest communicator, the Nokia 5800 Music Express Navigation Edition. Let’s be clear, this is no iPhone 3G, not by a longshot. Why? all the things I mentioned above as improvements to the Palm line that Apple has done, none of them are part of this device. It’s slow, dark, tedious, and has a very poor app store.

So why’d I buy the Nokia 5800?

The most obvious difference here is price.  An unlocked iPhone 3G is between $600 and $700. The Nokia 5800 MusicExpress Navigation Edition only cost $250. And since I was already carrying the iPod touch with me everywhere, the Nokia just has to stand in when I actually want to receive a call, navigate via GPS, or take a photo. And if I get really desperate, I can always use the wifi sharing to give my 3G connection to the iPod Touch and get some real work done.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Atul Arora and Paul McKeon, Rolf. Rolf said: new blog post: is the iPhone the spiritual successor to the Palm line? […]

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