Palm: Welcome back, baby

I remember my first Palm like I remember my first date in high school. It was certainly a far greater success. (Kristi, wherever you are, I'm sorry for what happened to your dress, the car, and your dog.)

After noodling around with the beloved but hopelessly flawed Newton, my Palm Pilot was a revelation. All my appointments, phone numbers, time-wasting games, and notes on my plan for world domination -- on a gizmo that fit easily in my pocket. I even got really good at Graffiti, the handwriting recognition alphabet.

Long before the iPhone App Store, the PalmStore was offering up thousands of great little applications that cost $20 and could run in 20K of memory. Could Microsoft write anything that ran in less than 200K, let alone 20? Fahgeddaboutit.

Years ago I begged one of Palm's hardware partners to come out with a tiny clamshell-style machine running the Palm OS. I envisioned a lightweight low-cost notebook that runs for days on AA batteries, turns on and off without a ridiculous booting sequence, automatically saves your data without forcing you to choose File*Save every five minutes, and doesn't just randomly seize up on you.

But did they listen? Noooo. And now of course everyone's all agog about Netbooks. I think the phrase "I told you so" applies.

I bought several Palms after my first, but eventually got tired of carrying both it and my cell phone around. As cell handsets got smarter, Palm got less attractive. I never did care for the Handspring phone or the Trio.

So I have to admit I'm thrilled to see that Palm seems to be getting its mojo back with the new Pre touch-screen smart phone.

Palm Pre smart phone

The Pre seems to offer a nice mix of the familiar and the innovative. A roomy 3-inch screen, a slide out Qwerty keyboard, gesture recognition, a charging pad instead of a wired adapter, and actual honest-to-God multitasking of applications. A mobile OS that relies on bread-and-butter Web tools instead of yet another proprietary platform is also a smart move. I haven't had the chance to get my hands on one, but I'm dying to try it.

As Harry “The Technologizer” McCracken notes:

It’s very dangerous to get too excited about a product based on a demo–and Palm is only saying the Pre will ship in the first half of this year (on Sprint). But this is by far the most impressive Palm demo I’ve seen since I first saw the original PalmPilot in 1995.

CW's Richi Jennings notes that the rest of the blogosphere seems to concur.

Fact is, in the realm of technology the best tech doesn't always win or even survive. Palm looked destined for the trash heap of geek history, along with the Amiga, Commodore, and the TRS80. If the Pre proves to be as nimble and smart as it looks, Palm may be around for quite a while to come. And that's good news for everyone who loves tech.

When not mourning things that might have been, the happily married Dan Tynan tends his blogs, Culture Crash and Tynan on Tech.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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