My vintage Palm PDA makes workplace iPhone users jealous
Handheld Technology

My vintage Palm PDA makes workplace iPhone users jealous

In the late 1990s, a Gartner study found that the TCO of a business PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, the forerunner of today's smartphone) was around $5,000. Today the figure for a phone in the workplace is much harder to pin down, due to greater variability in use cases, blurring of the line between business and personal use, and the difficulty of calculating productivity gains (or losses). The most frequently-quoted statistic I've seen puts the actual hardware purchase cost of a business smartphone at around 10% of its TCO.

Even allowing for inflation, that's a major increase in TCO. Is it worth it? Has productivity really increased in line with expense? Can that PDA of the last century teach us anything about the use of devices in the workplace today?

A typical PDA in 1999 would have been a Palm device, such as a Palm IIIxe. By luck, I have one; hoarding old technology sometimes has its benefits. Compared to an iPhone or Android-based device it feels rather toy-like. It's light, but the moulded plastic construction lacks elegance. Nobody would look at it today and think, "That's beautiful."

Still, beauty is only skin-deep. What are the enterprise pros and cons of a Palm IIIxe compared to, say, an iPhone? That sounds like a ridiculous comparison to make and perhaps it is. But let's see what conclusions can be drawn.

First, let's deal with the iPhone's obvious advantages. It's sleek and elegant, it has a colour touchscreen, a powerful processor, huge amounts of memory and the ability to connect to the entire world's resource of information. By contrast, the Palm runs on a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball CPU and has 8MB of RAM. It has a monochrome touchscreen and the only connectivity is via infra-red to an antique phone, or by using a cradle to connect it to a host PC. So far, so obvious. There's no comparison. The iPhone is just better in every way.

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Alex Cruickshank

Freelance technology journalist Alex Cruickshank grew up in England and emigrated to New Zealand several years ago, where he runs his own writing business.

Comments

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Jeff_in_TX on August 07 2017

I have a Palm III that I cannot bring myself to throw away. I also have an iPhone SE and can relate to the distraction factor you mention. I incorrectly assumed that the Palm Desktop simply disappeared as we advanced through an endless stream of new Windows versions, but it would appear that it didn't. I'll have to dig out my sync cord (in a drawer somewhere in my office) and give it a try. Just for nostalgia, if nothing else. One important point: if my primary device were a PP, I never would have seen your fine (albeit distracting) article. PS: Love Berlin.

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Jeremy Barker on August 08 2017

I too use a Palm device - it's a bit newer than the one mentioned in the article being a Tungsten-E that's only 14 years old. I wouldn't want to swap it for anything else.

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Alex Cruickshank on August 08 2017

Thanks guys. I have a III too: much better backlight than the IIIxe but not so clear in daylight. I had the Palm Desktop running under Windows XP but haven't tried under 7 or later. I suspect it might not like 64-bit Windows but there may be workarounds. On Linux I use jPilot, which is not as pretty but does the job. Regarding distractions, absolutely: I wouldn't advocate using such devices all the time, but when you really just want to get some work done that doesn't require the internet, they still have their uses.

no-images

Jeff_in_TX on August 07 2017

I have a Palm III that I cannot bring myself to throw away. I also have an iPhone SE and can relate to the distraction factor you mention. I incorrectly assumed that the Palm Desktop simply disappeared as we advanced through an endless stream of new Windows versions, but it would appear that it didn't. I'll have to dig out my sync cord (in a drawer somewhere in my office) and give it a try. Just for nostalgia, if nothing else. One important point: if my primary device were a PP, I never would have seen your fine (albeit distracting) article. PS: Love Berlin.

no-images

Jeremy Barker on August 08 2017

I too use a Palm device - it's a bit newer than the one mentioned in the article being a Tungsten-E that's only 14 years old. I wouldn't want to swap it for anything else.

no-images

Alex Cruickshank on August 08 2017

Thanks guys. I have a III too: much better backlight than the IIIxe but not so clear in daylight. I had the Palm Desktop running under Windows XP but haven't tried under 7 or later. I suspect it might not like 64-bit Windows but there may be workarounds. On Linux I use jPilot, which is not as pretty but does the job. Regarding distractions, absolutely: I wouldn't advocate using such devices all the time, but when you really just want to get some work done that doesn't require the internet, they still have their uses.

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