PalmPilot: 10 Years that Changed the Way We Work

The PalmPilot, and the age of the mobile worker that it helped to create, has turned 10 years old. It wasn't the first handheld but users say it was 'revolutionary'.
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Ten years ago, workers largely were tied to their desks, hemmed in by cubicle walls. When they were sent outside company confines, they lugged papers and folders and bulky laptops from airport to airport.

Then in March of 1996 something happened that changed the way people work.

Palm Computing launched the Pilot 1000, a mobile device that worked as a companion to a PC, enabling users to synchronize information and take it with them, helping to break the chains that tied them to their offices. Weighing in at only 5.7 ounces, the Pilot wasn't the first handheld device to hit the market. But it was the first one to catch fire, becoming not only a market leader but a cultural phenomenon. The pocket-sized devices have organized information and lives in the boardroom, the emergency room and countless hotel rooms. It's even made it to the top of Mt. Everest and flown in the Space Shuttle.

And now the PalmPilot, and the age of the mobile worker that it helped to create, has turned 10 years old -- a nostalgic milestone for those who love their cool tools and for those who just like to keep their work lives better organized.

By allowing people to travel with their schedules, addresses, phone numbers and to-do lists, that first Pilot grabbed the attention of the Silicon Valley elite. Since then, Palm has sold more than 34 million devices to busy mothers managing the family schedule, students keeping track of assignments... and, of course, to the now mobile worker.

''They changed the world... It changed the way we work,'' says Richard LeVine, senior manager of Accenture, a Chicago-based global management consulting and outsourcing company. ''In 1996, I went to work in Silicon Valley and a friend came in for a job interview. I said, 'What is that cool thing you have?' He said, 'Oh, it's a Pilot.' I went right out and got one... It was revolutionary.''

LeVine, like many longtime PalmPilot users, upgraded over the years from one version of the PalmPilot to the next. Today, though he uses an Audiovox SMT5600, he has a cabinet full of old Pilot handhelds that for years organized his life.

''PalmPilot was the beginning of the handheld revolution,'' he adds. ''Palm drove a huge part of the technical population into this space and then we dragged consumers along with us. It changed the way people thought. People carried this to a meeting instead of a laptop or a pad of paper... Having access to this information in my pocket was revolutionary.''

In the last decade, that original pocket-sized organizer, which sold for $299, has added email, a wireless connection and multi-media capabilities, like images and music. And Palm even has morphed it into a new incarnation of itself -- the popular Treo smartphone, which combines cell phone capabilities with email and organizational applications.

But it was that original handheld device that started it all.

''I had one of the very first ones,'' says MJ Shoer, president of Jenaly Technology Group Inc., a Portsmouth, N.H.-based outsourced IT firm. ''I was sick of carrying a huge daytimer that had all my contacts, my calendar, my reference information that I needed to have with me. It was a pain in the neck to carry around. When I saw there was something electronic out there and it wasn't big and bulky like the Apple Newton, I thought, 'Hey, I gotta get this'. This was pocketable. I could synch it up to my computer so I didn't have to have separate copies of stuff. It was easy to carry around. It was awesome. It was a natural evolution.''

As new versions of the Pilot were released, both Shoer and LeVine continually upgraded, adding to their growing collections of handhelds. Shoer says he had eight over the years.

And both say each one freed them up to move about with critical business, personal and technical information in their pockets.

''There's more mobility and more co-mingling of information today because of the PalmPilot,'' says Joe Wilcox, an analyst with JupiterResearch, an industry analyst firm. ''If people can carry their stuff around -- both work and personal -- it fundamentally changes how they work and how the work role is defined. If you go back 10 years, most workers were defined by location. With the proliferation of mobile devices, whether PDAs, cellphones or laptops, the workforce has grown in mobility and people's roles have changed.''

Read on to find out what made the PalmPilot the 'must-have' tool and where it's headed in the future...

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