From PDA to Smartphone: The Evolution of Palm

Look everywhere on the internet and you will see that nostalgia for the '90’s runs rampant. From old shows making their way onto streaming services to fashion brands giving a nod to the wacky styles of the era. Another big contribution from the ’90s that helped pave the way for the smartphone innovations of today was the invention of the PalmPilot, PDA. It has been widely argued that the popularity and introduction of this device is the reason why iPhones, Google Android devices, and other smartphones are around today. 

Introduced to the public in 1996, by Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dublinsky and Ed Colligan Palm’s PDA also known as the personal digital assistant, established the basic form factor that later smartphones would use. Palm proved that there was a market for a third category of portable computing device, something more than a cell phone but less than a laptop. And they were right. Since then, the company has been bought and sold many times, but the strength of the Palm name has endured throughout the years. The loyalty and respect that the brand has earned speak volumes for its innovation and contribution to the power of connection. 

Fast forward to today and the Palm brand has been reinvented by Dennis Miloseski and Howard Nuk. Even though the two companies launched more than two decades apart, they both share the same four pillars on how they wanted the device to be: Small, Intuitive, Affordable and Simple. We wanted to share our story with our friends, fans, and Palm Crew and show you all why we reinvented the brand, how we did it, and our reason to keep going. Over the course of the next three weeks, we will be going through our very own history and bringing it all to life through images, videos and more. Our first video below gives a quick and funny look into the “History of Palm.” We hope you enjoy this back to the future trip with us. 


Is That a Block of Wood in Your Pocket?

It has been said that in the ’90s, the original Palm Founders would walk around with wood blocks in their pocket to get the size right. Oddly enough, the current founders can tell you the same stories. Both companies knew that the size of the device would be key in its success and play a major role in setting them apart from others in the industry. Both Howard and Dennis knew they wanted to create something “literally the size of a credit card—a tiny, lightweight thing that lets you stay connected while focusing on the moment.”  

Just imagine how you would look if you tried to put your desktop computer (remember those?) into your shirt-pocket. That is what the original Palm team was looking to do. What they did was put the essentials from what you needed into the palm of your hand. Similarly, the current Palm founders wanted to rethink the mobile phone. Making sure customers have access to all their essentials: calls, messages, music streaming and more, but helping them realize that they “don’t need a mini-tablet on hand all the time to do them.” This philosophy has driven Palm to what it is today.

Let’s Just Keep It Simple 

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and simpler to use. When the original Palm was being built, their “competition wasn’t other devices—it was pen and paper…” (Fast Company, 2019) so they knew the use of the device had to be simple and seamless, and getting users to quickly understand it was a key to success. Back then having to press one button to sync your desktop was magic. 

Taking that same spirit of innovation, we sought out to apply it to today’s tech standards. With smartphones becoming increasingly packed with functionality that users don’t need, we wanted to make the new Palm very simple. Think about all the bells and whistles that come with your current $1,000+ phone that you don’t use, or need, or better yet, know what they do. There’s a lot of stuff crammed into your phone making it a pain to use sometime. 

In contrast, Palm’s hope was to make your phone less intrusive and easy to use. By taking this minimalist design approach, Palm has made a device that is functional and intuitive to use. With the advancements of voice-recognition technology and hand-gesture swipe, users are now able to access anything they need on Palm quickly and with ease, made for those on-the-go moments. Hence creating a new category, ultra mobility, sitting somewhere between a smartwatch and a large mobile phone. 

Staying Connected Doesn’t Have to Break the Bank

As more and more smartphones hit the market today, the cost for these devices only continue to rise - something that just doesn’t make sense to us. Especially in today’s climate with unemployment rising rapidly, people everywhere are changing how they are spending their money, and the smartphone industry needs to reshape itself around this. 

At Palm, our main goal was to always keep the price low but not sacrifice on the quality of the materials used. We wanted our buyers to feel like they are getting more than they paid for. We believe there is a market for “affordable luxury” in the smartphone industry; devices that are useful, get the job done, are beautiful, and keep us connected to what matters, instead of consuming us. Gadi Amit, a designer for the original PalmPilot, said it best: though the product was low-cost, the design “respected the end-user”. A philosophy we believe in as well. 

Forging a Better Relationship with Technology is the Future

As we look into the future of Palm and where we hope the next two decades take us, Surface magazine asked our co-founders, Howard Nuk and Dennis Miloseski how they see Palm evolving in the future. We leave you with their answers: 

We plan on “creating more mindful technology, expanding our relationships with technology into other products, and finding ways to weave in technology more naturally into our everyday life,” said Howard Nuk. 

“In the movie Her with Joaquin Phoenix, the protagonist falls in love with a device and talks to it to the point of forming a relationship with it. That’s five years down the road from today. We know the market is going that way and we’re riding that wave,” said Dennis Milsoseski.

Here’s to more innovation in technology that connects us all and makes our lives even more simple and happier in the process.