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What Is a PalmPilot?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 March 2014
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A PalmPilot can refer either to personal data assistants (PDAs) manufactured by the company Palm, Inc. or any PDAs or smartphones built by any company. Reference specifically to Palms speaks to the initial, widespread popularity of these handheld computers that could be used in multiple ways to organize data, and could interface with larger computer systems so data could be recorded permanently. Though there were attempts by several companies, most notably Apple®, to develop handheld devices with many functions, it was the initial Palm, then manufactured by Palm Computing, that captured the market in the late 1990s.

As with most types of electronics and computer systems, early models of the PalmPilot, though popular, left much to be desired. The first few models didn’t even feature a backlight, which could make it hard to see the screen in poorly lit areas. Amount of memory on early models was minimal too, though as PDAs developed in popularity, this increased. Still, it took a few years to get a Palm with a megabyte of memory or more.

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As popularity of these models grew, so did functionality. While many used the PalmPilot only for things like keeping track of appointments or recording phone numbers, a number of programs emerged that were compatible with Palm operating systems that were of great benefit. Some of these, for example, were targeted toward medical students and doctors, who might be able to use the organizers for things like diagnostics. Features of developing PDAs continued to improve, and soon many of them had more desirable elements such as color screens, touch screens and the ever-important backlit screen. Naturally, memory capacity also increased.

It is now much more difficult to obtain a classic PalmPilot that is designed toward organization only. As soon as companies began producing Internet capable PDAs or smartphones, early PalmPilot styles were thought incredibly outdated. This is unfortunate, because PDAs without the bells and whistles did have applications in other areas. For example, they were a great tool for use with students who have learning disabilities that affect organization.

Despite this remaining functionality, Palm, Inc and other companies like Apple® or Research in Motion (BlackBerry®) switched to the manufacture of smartphones, or products like the iPod Touch®, which combines music playing ability with Internet connection and access to a variety of applications. Most PalmPilot smartphones or data organizers now feature different methods of inputting data too.

Touchscreens or keyboards are now far more popular than using a stylus on the organizer screen. Some people found stylus use fairly troublesome, especially with early PalmPilot models, since it involved learning a slightly different script than natural writing. This could take a little time to master and could be slow going.

In any incarnation and by any manufacturer, a PalmPilot remains a useful device with expanding functionality. People might need to research before choosing the best one. They’ll also need to consider any contracts they might need to maintain with cellphone companies if they choose a Palm with phone capabilities.

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