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All in the Palm of Your Hand

When Max Anderson '01 wakes up in the morning, he first checks his schedule to see where he has to be that day. Next, he turns on his computer to peruse the day's headlines, stock news and movie times.

Later in the day — whether he is sitting in class, walking around campus or driving a car — he checks the news again on his Palm V hand-held computer, one of several devices made by PalmPilot that allow users to upload information from computers and keep track of their schedules.


"Throughout the day, when I have a minute between classes, I'll pull up the top articles in the news and read them," he said.

On a recent train ride to New York, Anderson handed his PalmPilot to a friend. Soon after, the pair noticed a nearby passenger checking out their newly purchased gadget.

"A young woman across the aisle saw this and pulled out hers. She asked if she could beam him a message from her Palm," he recalled. "He said okay, and when she beamed him, she gave him her phone number and asked [us] out for a double date that night."

"Obviously we didn't go because it's kind of psycho to ask someone out using your Palm," Anderson said. "But it was a fun thing to laugh about."

The woman's high-tech pick-up attempt was made possible by infrared technology that allows users to "beam" messages by aiming two computers at each other. All Palm devices are equipped with the technology.

Like Anderson, other University students seem increasingly willing to shell out money for PalmPilots in an effort to impose structure on their stressful schedules.


Chris Wu '02, a computer science major, said he is amazed at the number of people who have PalmPilots. "Usually, when a professor makes an announcement in class about a change in the syllabus, several kids will fumble in their bags for their Palm," he said. "They seem to rely on these machines to keep their lives in order."

The first PalmPilots were introduced in 1996, when Palm was a subsidiary of US Robotics. These original devices — the Pilot 1000 and the Pilot 5000 — led to an explosion in the growth of both the company's sales and the overall hand-held computer market.

Up to that point, numerous companies had tried — and failed — to create hand-held devices that would allow users to write directly onto their screens by recognizing handwriting. The most prominent of these debacles was the Apple Newton, which, with its $1,000 price tag, drove consumers away and plunged the company into debt.

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When US Robotics unveiled the PalmPilot, however, consumers began lining up at local stores to get their hands on them. With its relatively affordable $300 price tag and its easy-to-learn operating system, the product helped establish Palm as the company to beat in the personal digital assistant industry. To this day, competitors — such as Casio, Handspring, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard — have been unable to vanquish Palm. According to a December 1999 study by the International Data Corporation, Palm controls 78.4 percent of the worldwide PDA market.

Palm has kept up with the Internet's staggering growth. In addition to its product-line of pure organizers, the company began selling the Palm VII — which allows users to access the Internet using the company's exclusive wireless service — last summer. Though initially introduced in only major cities, the service is now available in more than 260 metropolitan areas around the country.

Recent deals with Encyclopedia Britannica and Yahoo! have allowed Palm to increase a Palm VII user's options. The Britannica contract enables users to access the entire 32-volume encyclopedia collection from anywhere the Palm.Net service is available.

As Internet portability has become all the rage, Palm has jumped on the bandwagon, promising its customers that the Internet is a top priority. Recently, Palm CEO Carl Yankowski announced that by the end of the year all of his company's hand-held products will be able to connect to the Internet.

Approximately eight-million people have a Palm device or other similar gadget, according to the International Data Corporation. In a February study, the IDC said the U.S. market is expected to increase more than eightfold to 61.5 million users by 2003 because people will want to be able to surf the Internet from places other than their desks.

According to Palm, PalmPilots are designed to be "simple, wearable and mobile." Investors seem to like these goals — they gobbled up the company's stock, giving the hand-held computer-maker a $17-billion market capitalization.

Loran Gutt '02 calls himself a PalmPilot "fanatic." He has been a Palm user since the technology's debut in 1996, when he bought the Pilot 5000. He has since upgraded to the Palm III and has not looked back, adopting many of the company's new software offerings.

Gutt said he synchronizes his device with his computer at least once a day — using Palm's HotSync technology, which allows users to connect their Palms to desktop personal computers and update all the day's changes with one click of a button.

Gutt said he is not surprised by the growth of PalmPilots. "I realized that the small size of the Pilot, its programmability and convenience were enough to start the final 'pocket-PC revolution' which had been underway for some time," he said.

His favorite new feature of the Palm is its Vindigo software, which is essentially a New York guide that provides users with movie times, restaurant reviews and directions and club hours. Gutt said he has heard such positive reviews of the software that "some people in New York are buying Pilots just to use Vindigo, even if they have no other real use for a Pilot."

"The coolest thing about owning a Pilot is simply the ability to do computing tasks anywhere, anytime. I get things done waiting in line, riding in taxi cabs, climbing the steps of the Statue of Liberty and other places," Gutt said.

Gutt said his Pilot has also been useful when he does not have access to specific books. "I also download e-books to my Pilot and read them in my Pilot instead of on paper," he said. "I've even been able to do that with a few texts for Princeton courses."

Bryan Johnson '01 is not as devoted to his Palm as Gutt. He uses his Palm only for reminders, scheduling, contacts and brief note-taking. Nevertheless, he uses it every day because it has enabled him to keep track of his life.

"With all the commitments that I have, the head was no longer able to keep days and events straight," he said.

Lee Barfield '03 said he likes PalmPilots for their size. "It is great because you can just put it in your pocket," he said.

He added that it has helped him keep his life less cluttered. "It is a lot easier than having Post-It notes all over your desk to remind you of meetings, classes, speakers, phone numbers and other activities that I am involved in," he said.

Though the device received rave reviews from several students, not everyone is convinced that Pilots actually keep their owners more organized.

"It hasn't significantly helped me keep my life in order, except maybe in very small ways," Kyle Smith '01 said.

Alex Lin '03 agreed. He said he has owned a PalmPilot for about a year, and though he enjoys having one, he is able to maintain some perspective. "It is quite possible to live your life without one," he said.

Smith said he enjoys the gadget more for its entertainment value — he uses it to read the newspaper each morning and uses Vindigo software on his Palm. He said that despite the obvious advantages to the device, he still thinks twice before bringing it out in class. "I think it's funny to see people using them in classes, though I have to admit to doing it occasionally myself," he said.

"There's just something so modern about being able to pass notes, essentially, across the classroom with an infrared beam instead of a piece of paper," he continued. "I am interested to see how a socially accepted etiquette for their public use will develop."

A loyal customer, Anderson says he plans to upgrade his Palm V when Palm introduces a new device — with either a "combo cell phone or MP3 player," he hopes — sometime in the next year.

Anderson said he did not always feel comfortable relying so heavily on his new high-tech companion. So he adapted gradually — albeit slightly ahead of his peers — and slowly grew accustomed to the feeling of placing his life in the palm of his hand.