From a Palm to a Droid

I have carried a PDA since late 1991, when I purchased my first Psion – a Series 3. Over the next ten years or so, I went through several varieties, including the 3a, 3mx and 5mx, and became such an authority on them that I had my own column in Palmtop User magazine. The machines were elegantly designed; these pocket-sized wonders supported office apps and e-books on pocket-sized devices that ran for 30-40 hours off a pair of AA batteries. To this day, theirs was the only platform I have encountered that supports undated items (“to-dos”), dated items (“day-notes”) and timed items (“appointments”) interchangeably. The 5mx had a netbook-sized keyboard in a pocket-sized clamshell device; an innovation that made them the machines for writers and journalists (they actually trademarked the term “Netbook” for use in a later product). They were years ahead of their time.

But Psion became an victim of their own success; they stopped listening to their users, who clamored for a color screen (even at the expense of battery life) and a USB interface (far faster than serial communications). They dared to tell their users that they knew better, and that arrogance cost them everything — they fell from grace, and the competition ate them alive. Instead, the company slowly imploded, leaving behind only Symbian, descended from EPOC (the operating system of the Series Five), which was spun off as a partnership with Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson. I am confident that if they had released a newer 5mx with these features, that used USB to sync, they would still be around today.

But they didn’t, and in 2004, I finally jumped ship. After months of research, I purchased my first Palm machine — a Tungsten T. The lack of a keyboard was a difficult thing to live with, but the ability to sync with a PC meant that the keyboard-intensive stuff could be done there and then synced into the Palm. The T|T also boasted a collapsible form factor that made it about the size of a pack of cigarettes. A year later I upgraded to a T2, and a year after that, to a T3. I never got used to Grafitti 2, preferring instead to “hack” the newer machines to use the older-but-more-efficient original grafitti found on the T|T.

I loved the T3, and we were very happy for many years. Like Psion, Palm designed tight, efficient systems (developers used to talk about “The Zen of Palm”). For instance, on the Palm, looking up a contact’s details was a one-handed task. But that simplicity meant that they weren’t offering what the market was clamoring for; music, movies and media. Microsoft made several attempts at market domination (as Microsoft generally do) starting off with mediocre, poorly-supported offerings (as Microsoft generally do), but getting better with every generation until they became a real market presence (as Microsoft generally do). And Palm, like Psion, lost their way.

This didn’t bother me, I was happy with the T3, and even purchased a spare against the day it would give up the ghost. In 2007 I purchased an iPod, and somewhere along the line, I acquired a cellphone. And all three of them lived on my belt in harmony, and everyone was pleased, except for Her Ladyship, who thought I looked too geeky. And she had a point, though I thought there was no such thing as “looking too geeky”…

And so it came to pass that I replaced my cheap flip-phone with a shiny new Droid X2. Moving and merging contacts and phone numbers from the old phone and the PDA were fairly straightforward; I restored the numbers stored on the old phone to the new, backed it up to my Google account, then spent a couple of hours copy-and-pasting from Palm Desktop and de-duplicating.

The appointments on the were a little more difficult; after a little Googling I ran across palm2csv, which allowed me to export the entire agenda from Palm Desktop and import it into Google Calendar. Agan, this took a couple of hours to tidy up, particularly with regard to Birthdays, Anniversaries and other repeating items.

This leaves three major functions that still run best on the Palm. Timesheets, Task Lists, and Voice Recording. Over the next few weeks I will be looking for replacements for all three, and attempting to document what I find. Once those have been ported over to the phone, I will be without a dedicated PDA for the first time in nearly twenty years.

Good grief — has it really been that long?

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