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Mar 10, 2009

History of PDAs - Part #1

Who developed the first PDA? How did it get to be a smartphone? The Mobile Spoon is going on a journey to learn the history of PDAs.

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History of PDAs: Part #1


The personal digital assistant (PDA) devices (AKA: Palmtop computers) were introduced back in the 80's with the release of some basic models. Years later, PDAs are everywhere, wearing their new shape as 'all-around' smart-phones, with media players, Internet browsers, game consoles, and more.

The Mobile Spoon is going on a journey to try and find the noticeable milestones in the history of the PDAs. (in case of inaccuracies, feel free to comment!):


1983: CASIO PF-3000 - the first digital diary:

Casiopf30001_thumb1

In 1983, Casio's first digital diary, the PF-3000, was released.

This electronic calculator had a digital diary, telephone book, schedule, and memo functions.

It was soon in demand among business people. Later models even had an option to synchronize with a PC (using a non-USB cradle of course...).

Although it was never considered to be a PDA (especially due to the fact PDA was not a term back then...) but this old device included some of the pioneering technology for today’s PDA.


1984: Psion Organizer

Psion_Organiser_II__270404_thumb2

This piece of beauty from Psion is considered to be the first real PDA. It was first introduced at 1984.

Its first model of the Organizer was based on an 8-bit Hitachi 6301-family processor. It featured 4K of ROM and 2K of battery-backed RAM, and had a single-row monochrome LCD screen.

The machine provided a simple calculator and clock but had no operating system. After the big success of generation 1, Psion decided to create the Organizer 2 (and later also 3) which were even more powerful than the first one!!! ;-)

Both models had an alphabetically arranged 6x6 keyboard protected by a hard plastic sliding cover. (similar to slider phones nowadays... or maybe not...)

Note about Psion:

Making some more research (or should I call it: "regoogle"), I found some interesting facts about Psion:

Psion was also a pioneer in many other areas: It was Psion who originally developed the Symbian OS (later sold to Nokia), it was Psion that invented the term NetBook and according to this amazing story; tomtom and iPod were both a result of inventions from people working at Psion (ex Psion directors). Does it mean that Psion only hires great minds? Or maybe it means they don't know how to preserve them?

Years later, Psion is now part of Psion Teklogix which creates rugged handheld and laptops devices. I had a chance to work with some Psion Teklogix PDAs (such as iKon and Workabout) and I have to say they are really powerful devices.


1992: Apple Newton - Introducing the term "PDA":

applenewton_thumb 

The term 'PDA' was first used on January 7, 1992 by Apple Computer CEO John Sculley at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, referring to the Apple Newton.

Yep. This innovative, eye-candy, device from Apple really made a revolution (rings a bell?)! It had a touch screen, and included both hardware and software, which together combined the Newton Platform. It was an operating system!

The first personal digital assistant? Probably.

Here's a funny mockup of what could have been the Newton launcher:

old

During tthe 90's, other companies, notably Sharp, Motorola, and Digital Ocean, also released their own devices that ran the Newton OS. None were as successful as Apple's devices.

No Copy/Paste, no MMS:

The Notes application allowed users to create small documents that could contain text that had been typed, or that had been recognized from handwriting, as well as free-hand sketches, "Shapes", and "ink text".

One of the biggest criticism about it, though, was that it didn't have Copy/Paste. Apple said it will be solved in one of their next releases...

(Looking at the old notes application does show some resemblance to the newer Apple PDA - the iPhone...)

Apple_newton_messagepad_checklist_jk[2] 1942165224_adddacf8aa_thumb1

The Newton development started in 1989 and officially ended on February 27, 1998. They say there are some Apple fans that still use this old device.


Next in the History Of PDAs:

Palm taking over the PDAs realm, making the Apple Newton disappear. Some say history repeats itself... (without mentioning Palm Pre...)

 

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23 comments:

Genghis7777 said...

"They say there are some Apple fans that still use this old device."

Yes, there are. And there is a thriving Newton community which share ideas and new software applications at www.newtontalk.net. 2,083 subscribe to the list. There are a few blogs focused on the Newton: www.newpoetry.com; mynewtonblog.net; and myapplenewton.blogspot.com; among others. In addition there are wikis, ftp download sites and various sourceforge projects underway.

The Newton community has recently been faced with one of its biggest technical challenges: the Y2010 bug. The fix involves an OS patch; but how do you do that without the original source code? The programmers in the community have rallied and look like they are well down the track of climbing this mountain too! Check out pocketnow.com for a video review of the Messagepad 2100, the last in the line of Newtons.

Although the product was discontinued in 1998 users have implemented bluetooth, USB, MS Vista, wifi, ATA flash, stowaway keyboard, cellular telephony technologies; written programs to implement IMAP email, GTD PIMs, PCB layout and design, Sodoku, emulate Nintendo Entertainment Systems, emulate the Newton on Linux, allow Newtons to act as web servers (NPDS), and make breakfast. The Gadgeteer recently interviewed a Newton user. I still continue to use the Newton as my main diary.

Yes, the number of users are diminishing as time passes but there continues to be a fierce loyalty amongst some users and developers and a fascination amongst the rest over a technology that they have heard so much about but few have seen in the flesh.

Anonymous said...

Great tutorial (and funny too!)
Thanks!

Sonny said...

Hi, it's really unfortunate that you seem to not have done any real investigation into Newton before you made your posting.

1) Here's a funny mockup of what could have been the Newton launcher

If you look at the Extras area in the Newton OS it was there already. This could be set as the default start location to run applications from. Only difference was the quality of the icons.

2) One of the biggest criticism about it, though, was that it didn't have Copy/Paste. Apple said it will be solved in one of their next releases.

Ah, let me debunk this wrong understanding. The copy and paste feature you are thinking of was implemented using the stylus selection of text by holding the stylus on the item until a beep and then circling the text or whatever you wanted to copy. After being highlighted you drag it to the side of the screen; many used to top which copied the item there. You then can goto the location where you want to paste the item and then tap and drag the item to the location you want it placed at. If you double tapped you would take a copy to use leaving a copy still available for later use.

3) Looking at the old notes application does show some resemblance to the newer Apple PDA - the iPhone.

Yeah, I think it's more like, "Looking at the Notes application it seems Apple has decided to implement something similar in the new iPhone, unfortunately the new version has been crippled in many ways."

And just like the other poster mentioned there are many who still use Newton. I am one of them.

Too bad many like you never investigated the Newton in depth but went by previous preconceived notions of what the Newton is. I've used the Palm from the beginning and various technologies as they came to market such as the first Blackberry PDA Phone, but unfortunately most of them for the most part made you learn how to use them their way. Only Newton worked the way a person worked such as writing, tapping, drawing... etc. Current technologies IMO are based as extension of DOS, Windows and even OS X/Unix in it's variants. We are accustomed to them by now so if something was different it would be difficult to adjust though they may be better. But there still are many things the Newton does better than the current or even bleeding edge Technology.

At this time for me the iPhone is close as it comes, but there could be improvements still of course.

It would be a breath of fresh air if people would write about this stuff without their own slant of view, but give a history just as it is, what happened (not their opinion) and at a minimum accurate.

Stewart said...

Apple people just don't get jokes

Sonny said...

Yes we do, but it was a lame try at it :-P we don't settle for mediocrity...

Gil Bouhnick said...

Sonny, I always welcome criticism in the mobile spoon but it seems like you were somehow offended by a slight of sense of humor.

My post is scattered with some sarcastic comments such as the missing MMS and copy/paste in a PDA from almost 20 years ago. Of course I mentioned it as a criticism about the iPhone, and not the Newton. The image with the icons is a pure drawing as you probably noticed…

I do not wish to replace Wikipedia, so I allow myself to be inaccurate here and there (as I mentioned in the beginning of my post).
Still, I appreciate your comment and will relate to it in the next post in the series (will be written in a couple of days).

If you have additional information about the Newton (or even real pictures and cool features) that you wish to contribute - I will be very happy to dedicate a complete post about it. (or you can submit your own even…)

Gil

Sonny said...

Hey Gil,

Sorry for my harsh tone there...
I understood the humor that's sorta scattered around in there, but was shooting from the hip and decided not to be so social as I usually am when I comment.

Usually it's a form of venting from me that technology has in it's iterations recently as a norm been so lame...

I miss the innovations that Newton brought to the public, that's all.

If you want to use any pictures of Newtons that I have taken just do a Google search for: flickr sonnyhung (newton, emate, ... etc) OR goto the Newton Group on Flickr. Unfortunately my Flickr PRO account reverted back to a Free account and I've not renewed yet so you will have to refine your search to find my other photos.

It is sad to find occasionally a RARE Newton OS based piece of hardware which never went to market. Here are a few examples.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonnyhung/370523257/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonnyhung/1362563481/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonnyhung/97061731/

Here is one that actually made it into production and use. I actually sold two Newton MP2000u towards this project so that may actually be in use at this time.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sonnyhung/366689152/

sulinpanda said...

My first PDA was the Psion Revo. Loved it, and the Symbian OS. That's why I've stuck with PDA phones. It's also why my father is a big Nokia Communicator fan.

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