Piloting Palm: The Inside Story of Palm,
Handspring, and the Birth of the
Billion-Dollar Handheld Industry

by Andrea Butter and David Pogue
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
353 pp., inc. index
8 pp. photos

Piloting Palm Review

By Mike Cane
Copyright © 2002 by Mike Cane.
All Rights Reserved.
Exclusive to Palm Infocenter.

In the story of Palm, it seems there is no escaping Sony. Before there was the famous block of wood (which is finally pictured in this book) that Jeff Hawkins carved to fit his shirt pocket and carried around as his embryonic Pilot, he was finding inspiration in a Sony handheld (probably the InfoCarry) that was never sold in the United States. In June 1992, he met future partner Donna Dubinsky for the first time and this is part of what transpired:

To give her an idea of Palm's direction, Hawkins pulled out his Sony palmtop -- a handheld computer that was only sold in Japan. About the size of a Walkman, it had a pen and a graphic interface; even in Japanese, it was easier to navigate than any current U.S. electronic organizers. It gave her the same tingle of excitement that she'd felt 12 years earlier at Dan Bricklin's demo of VisiCalc. "That's it!" she told Hawkins. "That's the next generation of computing. I'm sure of it!"

How ironic that Sony should have the future of computing and not realize it. How ironic that less than a decade later Sony would license an OS that it helped inspire. And how ironic that Sony is now perceived as a "better Palm than Palm."

These sorts of ironies and strange twists of fate are interlaced throughout the history of Palm, which is recounted in delicious detail in Piloting Palm: The Inside Story of Palm, Handspring, and the Birth of the Billion-Dollar Handheld Industry, a fine book by former Palm Director of Marketing Andrea Butter and well-known technology-industry writer David Pogue.

Before Pilot, Hawkins created the Zoomer, the first consumer PDA with partners Tandy (retail sales), GeoWorks (OS), and Casio (hardware manufacturing). It was a frustrating experience of "design by committee" which doomed the project from the start. And it did not help that Apple touted and then released Newton in the same timeframe. The scathing press Newton received -- including the notorious Doonesbury "egg freckles" strip -- rebounded to the Zoomer, killing any possibility of generating enthusiasm for it and ending all hope for an improved Zoomer II.

Out of such a disaster was born the determination -- indeed, the dire necessity -- for Hawkins to create the Pilot. Palm Computing had no other choice if it was to remain in business. And Hawkins had no other choice if he were to realize his conviction that

"[i]t's inevitable that all computing will be mobile. [. . .] There are so many colliding things that say, 'small, cheap, robust, on-your-person is better than big, slow, clunky, on-your-desk.'"
If Hawkins had not done it, it's doubtful that anyone else would have. By that time, several high-profile "pen computing" companies had failed, taking millions of dollars of venture capital to their graves. The entire idea was regarded as a fool's quest and an investor's poison.

But we all know what eventually happened. It's daily in the palm of our hands.

Yet in-between, it was never a sure thing. Another irony in the tale is that Compaq could have produced a version of the original Pilot (iPilot?), but the contract terms it offered in exchange for its investment were onerous. It really left Palm with little choice but to be acquired by U.S. Robotics.

Even guaranteeing that the original Pilot could be manufactured was uncertain. It would require a type of RAM that was regarded as passé. Toshiba had the only remaining plant that manufactured this RAM, and someone had to twice fly to Singapore to beg Toshiba in person to keep their plant open and the RAM flowing.

That someone was Bill MacKenzie, Palm's Director of Product Programs. He's one of the many heroes of Palm's history whose names and roles are finally revealed in this book.

Two others are Ron Marianetti, who worked on Graffiti and PalmOS, and Product Manager Rob Haitani.

Marianetti is described thusly by co-workers:

"Ron is absolutely brilliant. He's the best engineer we've ever worked with, [. . .] Probably 80 or 90 percent [of engineers], even given an unlimited amount of time, could never do what he does. The problems are just too complex for them to solve. Not only does he solve them much quicker, but he's capable of doing them, whereas a lot of [other engineers] aren't. That's why so many products are in development for years and years and years. They're beyond the ability of the people trying to do them."
Rob Haitani is now a special favorite of mine, here being wisely guided by Ed Colligan:
Part of Rob Haitani's task was designing the user interface -- the actual screens, buttons, and menus for the five built-in primary programs: calendar, address book, to-do list, memo pad, and a database program (which was eventually dropped) -- so that it fit into a space 160 pixels square.

[. . .]

His goal was to display an entire workday's worth of appointments, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., on a single screen without requiring scrolling. For days, Haitani struggled; even the calendar programs on the relatively enormous Apple Newton screen, at 320 by 240 pixels, could show only the hours from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on a single screen.

Ed Colligan came up with a mantra that guided Haitani, and soon the entire team, in his design decisions: "Delight the customer." Delighting the customer meant minimizing the number of steps required to perform some function, putting the options the customer wanted right under his or her nose, doing the right thing.

Along these lines, Haitani developed a religion of counting taps. The idea was to reduce the number of steps to achieve any function to the absolute minimum, even avoiding the use of the stylus, when possible (making a button big enough to tap with your finger, for example).

"We would be trying to decide if some function should be a button on the screen or a command in the menu," says Haitani. "And the engineers would say, 'Why does it have to be on the screen? It's only one more step if it's in the menu.' And I said, 'OK, wait, how is your own desk organized? You have things on the top of your desk and you have things in the drawers. Why is that? Things on the top of your desk you need all the time. Take your mouse and stick it in a drawer. Then anytime you need to use it, take it out of the drawer. It's only one step, but I guarantee it'll drive you absolutely crazy.'"

Haitani was a former employee of -- guess who? Sony.

"Delight the customer" is a wonderful mission and goal. One that seems to have been lost in recent Palm actions (i.e., that "desk drawer," VFS -- ironically, created by Sony!).

And imagine counting taps! Something so simple, yet so deeply thoughtful. For all of Microsoft's might, for example, this kind of thinking seems to have been avoided in creating Pocket PC. (Microsoft's entire Windows CE effort is hilariously characterized by Butter and Pogue as "revise and advertise.")

Further, it was Haitani who coined "The Zen of Palm."

There are other delightful tidbits of this sort. Revealed also is who created the term, "Palm Economy." How paper, which they were trying to replace with the Pilot, seemed with almost sinister intent to nearly kill the company twice. Why Springboard expansion could be so easily added by Handspring. And then there is the ghastly revelation of what ex-CEO (and former Sony employee) Carl Yankowski wore on the day of Palm's IPO. (He should have been fired on that day, on the spot, while on live national TV! He goes on to even greater depths of dumbness later in the book.)

Probably the most important revelation is that the seeds of many of Palm's current perceived shortcomings were planted in the compost of Zoomer. According to a post-mortem survey

[Zoomer owners] used the $700 computer almost exclusively as an organizer: the date book, address book, and memo pad. [. . .]

Another finding: Almost no one printed from the Zoomer. So much for the premise that a handheld should be, at its core, a scaled-down PC.

And yet, when the finished Pilot was ready for launch, Hawkins and Dubinsky suggested describing it as a pocket computer. However, years later, in planning the Palm V (the sole goal of which was its beauty), Hawkins stated, "I want to prove that this isn't a little computer."

Is it or isn't it?

This is much the same dilemma -- and set of contradictory impulses -- that Palm, Inc. (hardware) and PalmSource (OS) face today as they move to upgrade the entire platform. Is it simply a "connected organizer" (a phrase devised by Palm's original marketing team to make sales to retail stores easier) or does it aspire to be a "Pocket Mac" against Pocket PC? And what's multimedia doing in an "organizer," anyway?

These issues also begin to drive home the hazards in Palm splitting and spinning off into two autonomous companies. Palm, Inc., the hardware maker, becomes little more than a container maker for the PalmOS. And if Palm, Inc. retains that name, shouldn't devices then be called "PalmSource-Powered" devices? And why would an independent Palm, Inc. want to narrow its focus on making PalmOS devices with so much competition? "Being the best PalmSource-Powered hardware manufacturer" is the same mission statement as its competitors. The future begins to get strange and tricky.

Easily, this book could have been twice as long and lost none of its impact. Items that are not covered but which cry out for elaboration include:

  • The decisions that led to four hardware bottons and silkscreened icons in the final Pilot versus the vastly different configurations shown in the two pictured prototypes
  • How and why the Kadak kernel was licensed for PalmOS
  • The rumors of the offer from Bill Gates to acquire Palm
  • IDEO's role in designing the Palm V
  • Why there's no Flash ROM in Visors
  • The first 65K-color PalmOS unit, the Visor Prism
  • The design of the Visor Edge
  • The successes and failures of Springboard licensees (Innogear comes to mind)
  • The decisions that led to the m505's screen and dim backlight
  • How Palm decided on Secure Digital for its slot
  • How and why Sony chose PalmOS
  • The design decisions that resulted in the criminally-ugly i705
  • The machinations of the purchase of Be Inc's assets (it turns out Jean-Louis Gassée was never far from the scene!)
  • Who invested $50 million in Palm and why

To be fair to Butter and Pogue, they were probably contractually obligated to a set number of words and such details had to go. As well, some items may have been too technical to comfortably fit within the narrative. But it's a tribute to their masterful work that one is left asking for more -- much more. Perhaps, say, in five years they will revisit Palm and its licensees and publish a revised and expanded edition? It would be welcomed! (Right now, they are offering a brief update on the book's site at http://www.pilotingpalm.com -- adding pertinent information since the book's November 2001 conclusion.)

In the meantime, this book is for anyone with even a tiny interest in how Palm and Handspring each came to be. It is not just a story of those companies and their technology, it is foremost an exciting and frightening story of a tiny group of passionate and determined people who persevered against tremendous and even ridiculous opposition to succeed where giants had failed. Just be warned: once I started reading, I didn't want to stop. When I was finished, it was 4:20 a.m.! Plan your own schedule accordingly.

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Full Disclosure

Ed @ 3/22/2002 11:14:09 AM #
I think I ought to point out that if you click on the link to the book in Mike Cane's review, you'll be taken to Amazon's site where, if you buy the book, PIC gets a small percentage of what you pay. Mike himself doesn't get anything (besides our gratitude) so that probably didn't have any effect on his opinion of the book.

News Editor
RE: Full Disclosure
mikecane @ 3/22/2002 4:38:03 PM #
Let me chime in on the amazon link -- since this might have been an issue that caused Ed to put up the start of this thread.

When Ed formatted the review, I got to see it before it was posted. I saw the amazon link and could have objected -- but this is Ryan & Ed's site and they are not getting rich from it (who is on the Net?). If they want to include that link, I have no objection.

But it is as Ed stated: that PIC might have an affiliate link to the book on amazon had no influence on my review. I asked them if I could review it, asked Wiley to provide a reviewer's copy, read it, wrote the review (all in Graffiti, for those who like such trivia! -- with the excerpts OCRed by the QizCom Tech QuickLink Pen -- there's *my* plug!), got permission from Wiley for the extensive excerpts, and now it's posted.

If the formatting of this message is funky, it's because I'm at
the NYPL and the branch I'm at is using that piece of crap,
Netscape, which does not handle the Net well at all. (Far be
it from me to tout MS, but MSIE is the superior browser.)

RE: Full Disclosure
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/23/2002 3:47:30 PM #
I cannot imagine anybody begrudging your making a few cents via the Amazon link. If I buy the book I will definitely do so via that route. It would be the least I could do to support this great site!


I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 11:22:03 AM #
I will get this book. Hopefully it will unite all PalmOS users.

RE: Great...
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 11:25:19 AM #
Bought it last week, it's very hard to put down. Just a great inside story that is truly inspiring to everyone who feels the entrepreneurship vibe inside him-/herself.

RE: Great...
bookrats @ 3/22/2002 11:26:10 AM #
There is nothing on the face of God's green earth that could unite *all* Palm users.


Jeff Meyer

RE: Great...
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/23/2002 9:17:18 AM #
I too downloaded the book after reading the review here. And, I too, can not put my m505 down! It's great. To echoe another reader, it's terrific to be reading the book on the device they invented. This is great reading.


I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 11:25:23 AM #

Copyright © 2002 by JBH.

All Rights Reserved.

Exclusive to Palm Infocenter.

I respect rights of reproduction as much as the next guy, but does everything Mike Cane writes here really need to be copyrighted? Whatever.


RE: Copyright
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 11:41:41 AM #
Copyright © 2002 by I.M. Anonymous

All Rights Reserved.

Exclusive to Palm Infocenter.

I think we should all retain copyright © privleges to our postings. I hear Ed wants to rip us off and publish them all in his new compendium, "Wisdom From the Palm Infocenter Message Boards."

RE: Copyright
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:10:35 PM #
Copyright © 2002 by JBH
All Rights Reserved.
Exclusive to Palm Infocenter.

Hey, Ed can do whatever he wants to do with my thoughts. Ed is cool.


(JBH is not affiliated with or endorsed by Ed in any way. Any use of the word "Ed" is for discussion purposes and is a registered trademark of Ed.)

RE: Copyright
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:26:43 PM #
Agree. Mike Cane relax. No one will steal your words, and, if they do, you'll only get more pub. This is not the Grapes of Wrath we're talking about here.

RE: Copyright
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 1:22:27 PM #
Actually, check out the ongoing stuff with Van's Hardware Guide and Tom's Hardware Guide regarding removing of copyright bylines.

RE: Copyright
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 2:05:25 PM #
> does everything Mike Cane writes here really need to be copyrighted? Whatever.

No, it's hubris.

RE: Copyright
mikecane @ 3/22/2002 5:00:01 PM #
For the children who don't think Copyright matters:


RE: Copyright
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 6:28:15 PM #
Copyright does matter, but only when the things covered by the copyright actually matter. JBH

RE: Copyright
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 7:42:05 PM #
Ooooh, look at how brave he is! He gives his initials.

JBH = Just Brainless and Hairy?

Kind of fitting...

fleegle @ 3/22/2002 11:28:47 AM #
It's also available as an ebook from Palm Digital Media (Peanut Press) for those who want to read it off their PDAs. :)

RE: Kind of Fitting
rldunn @ 3/22/2002 12:15:55 PM #
I'm just about done reading this book using Palm Reader. It's a great book and when they're discussing technical details, it's pretty cool to look at your own device and see exactly what they're referring to. If you're really into your PalmOS device, this is a great read.

An example of the kind of inside info that this book provides is the story behind the famous Taxi Easter Egg, which was created on the day that Palm decided that their first device would be called the Palm Taxi. The name had to change for trademark issues, but the taxi easter egg remains.

dwarchbold @ 3/22/2002 1:11:54 PM #
Hmmm, sale price on Peanut Press is $20.95. Amazon lists the book for $19.57.

I never purchased an eBook from Peanut Press before, but I thought they would be a LOT cheaper than the actual printed book.

Looks like Amazon wins my money. Glad to "donate" some to PIC too! :)

RE: Kind of fitting...
fleegle @ 3/22/2002 1:59:26 PM #
Yes. That was the debate about ebooks a while back. Price of the ebook vs. hard copy.

My preference is towards the ebook, regardless of price, because of the convenience of not carrying around the "bulky" book along with my PDA.

There's pros and cons of both.

RE: Kind of fitting...
mbgrayson @ 3/22/2002 2:55:40 PM #
¢H??£|e is a regular Peanut Press reader, they will send you a FREE weekly news e-mail with a 10 % discount. With that discount, the electronic price is less than Amazon, plus NO SHIPPING charges.

"Punch in this week's Promo Code GENIUS to receive a 10% discount off each eBook that you purchase."

Thanks for the review. I am in the process of reading this on my m515.


Missing Content in the eBook
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 3:21:07 PM #
This may or may not matter to you, but if you get "Piloting Palm" in the eBook format, you'll miss out on some of the nice photographs that Pogue & Butter included in their book. They've got some great shots of the early days at Palm, including a nice pic of the balsa wood handheld that Jeff Hawkins carried around.

For those that would argue about file size getting too large with photos, remember that eBooks can now be stored on SD/MMC/MemorySticks, and they could always make two versions of the eBook available: one with full content, and one without.

It might be a minor item, but for a price that's identical to the hardcover, I'd at least expect the same content to be in both editions. For what it's worth, the eBook makes the following statement on "page" 6, "This title is also available in print as ISBN 0-471-08965-6. Some content that appears in the print edition of this book may not be available in this electronic edition."

Too bad you don't find that out until *after* you've purchased the eBook...

RE: Missing Content in the eBook
taxus @ 3/22/2002 6:31:43 PM #
Both FictionWise and Palm Digital Media/PeanutPress remove pictures from their eBooks, and that's a shame. The PalmReader format does allow pictures in PNG format, and that would not greatly add to the size of the eBook.

RE: eBook
taxus @ 3/22/2002 6:56:32 PM #
About the price: it depends on the ebook. Some are sold at hardcover price, while some are at paperback price. Often the ebook will first be sold at hardcover price, then at paperback price when the paperback version is released.

Don't forget that there are publishing costs, even for an ebook: it has to be reformated in the appropriate PDA formats.

RE: Missing Content in the eBook
taxus @ 3/22/2002 7:58:08 PM #
After writing my comment, I inquired by e-mail of Palm Digital Media (PeanutPress) about the lack of pictures in ebooks. I got this answer in less than 30 minutes:

"The decision on including pictures in the eBook version is made by the publisher. Some of the books that we sell include all of the pictures that were included in the print version, but other publishers choose not to include pictures or artwork. In some cases the publisher may not even have the rights to distribute electronic versions of the pictures. We always encourage publishers to include as many pictures as possible, and we have made it as easy as
possible for them to do so. In the future we expect more publishers to take advantage of this feature."

RE: Kind of fitting...
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/24/2002 12:26:21 PM #
I just purchased this book from Peanut Press.
Can I use other ebook reader such as iSilo or CSpotRun?
I can't change the font size in Palm Reader, and the font is too small, I can't read at all.

RE: Kind of fitting...
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/25/2002 4:47:45 AM #
You can easily change the font size: go to the Options menu and select Large Font (or something like that).

Palm Reader Pro also allows you to use custom fonts, apparently.

RE: Kind of fitting...
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/25/2002 12:20:54 PM #
While it may be kind of fitting to read "Piloting Palm" on the very device that its written about, ebooks in general have a LONG way to go before being accepted by the general populace. A large part of that is the price. Face it folks, you're getting a good bit less for the same amount of money. Nothing solid, and less content.

If ebooks were half the price of a paperback then they'd be good value for the money, but until then they're playthings for people with too much money to spend in the first place.

The publishing industry needs follow the recording industry in getting their heads out of their asses and start producing something of value for money instead of simply looking at ways of making money for money's sake. And these people wonder why piracy is "rampant" in their industry. 8-(

interesting questions

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:02:14 PM #
- The rumors of the offer from Bill Gates to acquire Palm
- Why there's no Flash ROM in Visors
- The successes and failures of Springboard licensees
- How and why Sony chose PalmOS
- The machinations of the purchase of Be Inc's assets
- Who invested $50 million in Palm and why

ok can someone answer these questions so I can save some money buying the book ?

RE: interesting questions
montyburns @ 3/22/2002 12:07:56 PM #
No, no, no. Those questions were NOT answered in the book!

I like my Palm!

RE: interesting questions
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:12:25 PM #
The simple answer to why there is no Flash ROM in the Handspring Visor is that at the time of conception there was an extreme shortage of flash ROM. The flash ROM shortage was causing some delays in the production of Palms. This for a feature that a clear minority ever used (upgrading their Palm). So Handspring at one swoop managed to prevent any production delays and certainly not using any flash ROM gave Handspring a price advantage versus the Palm products (even with paying the license fee).

RE: interesting questions
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:12:47 PM #
Ooppss ... damn, I swear I have problems with my eyes. Oh well so I guess I don't need to buy the book then. :)

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:13:23 PM #
RTA = Read the Article

"Items that are not covered but which cry out for elaboration include: "

... everything you asked.

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:15:55 PM #
ITANCBWCOFEI = Items that are not covered but which cry out for elaboration include

honestly your RTA comment is very annoying. you could choose to shut up if you don't feel like replying.

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:50:51 PM #
It's supposed to be very annoying. I'm trying to embarrass the people who ask questions that are answered in the articles. You have to admit, there is an epidemic of this on this site. They were making fun of this site on SlashDot the other day for this exact reason. Maybe next time the people I embarrass will read over the article carefully before asking another question. I don't think this is unreasonable. I don't swear at people. I only point out that they would know the answer to their question if they had read the article instead of skimming it.

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 1:15:55 PM #
LoL I don't know if you are embarassed or the original poster here, the original poster just want to know answer of the questions.

RTQ = Read the Question

RTP = Read the Post

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 1:16:01 PM #
He'd already been embarrassed and apologized by the time you posted your comment. Besides being very annoying, your comment was totally superfluous. Next time read the whole thread before you comment.

RE: interesting questions
I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 1:24:49 PM #
He didn't apologize. He gave an excuse why he made the mistake but that's not "I'm sorry". Notice that his excuse is from about 30 seconds before mine. He hadn't posted it yet when I wrote mine. Still, I'll be nice and say I'm sorry.

RE: interesting questions
Ed @ 3/22/2002 1:30:06 PM #
Guys, this doesn't have anything to do with the book or its review. Drop it and move on, OK?

News Editor

Not a bad review...

I.M. Anonymous @ 3/22/2002 12:04:35 PM #
Umm - I think the review is good but I do have a problem with the statement "The design decisions that resulted in the criminally-ugly i705 ".

I think the i705 is pretty cool looking.

But then again, this is a REVIEW, so you have to take the opinions expressed in it with a grain of salt.

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