From Palm Pilot to Palm Pre: A brief history of Palm's handhelds

Will the Palm Pre be the last in a storied line of products, or will it mark the beginning of a new era for the once and former Palm, Inc.?

In the Beginning: The Pilot 1000/5000

In March 1996, less than three years after Apple's first Newton MessagePad attracted much media interest but little commercial success, Palm Computing (by then a division of U.S. Robotics) brought to market a pair of personal digital assistants that offered some of the Newton's most interesting features (including the Graffiti handwriting-recognition system) without its hefty US$700 price tag--or its plain old heft.

PC World named the $299 Pilot 1000 (shown above with 128KB of memory) number four on our list of "The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years." The Pilot 5000, with 512KB of memory, cost $369. Though the two models' gray cases looked stubby and square by today's standards, either could fit in a shirt pocket.

Both PDAs had 160-by-160-pixel grayish green screens capable of displaying four shades of gray. They lacked infrared or a backlight, but using a supplied cradle they could hot-sync calendar information, contacts, and memo pad data with desktop software for Windows (3.1 or 95) and Mac (OS 7 or later). These early Palms could run for a week or more on two AAA batteries. Notice that the Palm brand name is nowhere to be found on the front of the device.

Photo: Courtesy of Palm

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