The PalmPilot Is Back (Kind of) and Here’s Why People Miss It

Simple can be good

  • If you’ve been missing the PalmPilot PDA from the 1990s, you’re in luck because there’s now an online emulator available. 
  • The new emulator lets you run more than 500 programs built for the PDA in your web browser.
  • Former PalmPilot users say they miss the simplicity of the device.
Person Using Personal Digital Assistant

Strauss / Curtis / Getty Images

Forget color screens, internet access, and gigabytes of memory because the PalmPilot PDA is back. 

The Internet Archive now offers a virtual version of the PalmPilot you can use in your browser. For many, the Palm is a memory trip to the PDAs of the 1990s with a calendar and notepad, with some saying they miss their PalmPilots despite all the modern conveniences of smartphones. 

"Palm Pilots had all the functionality you needed without the clutter," business consultant and former Palm user Ronald Osborne told Lifewire in an email interview. "Everything advertised worked perfectly without a glitch. At the time, it was a much-coveted piece of tech that was seen as a symbol of success."

A Different Kind of PDA

Before nearly everyone had a supercomputer in their pocket, the PalmPilot reigned supreme in the land of PDAs or personal digital assistants. Launched in 1997, the Palm offered up to 1024 kilobytes of memory and a 160x160 pixel monochrome screen. PalmPilot had reportedly sold over 1 million units by 1998.

You can now try out a PalmPilot on your smartphone by visiting the Internet Archive, where the Palm is emulated along with about 500 software programs. 

"Hey, so, don't tell anyone, but I'm announcing PalmPilot emulation at Internet Archive for the holidays, probably next week," archivist Jason Scott wrote recently on Twitter. "All the currently-working items need descriptions, so it's not quite ready. Don't tell anybody, OK?"

Simpler Times

What the Palm lacked in features, it made up for in simplicity. Osborne said he misses the PalmPilot's stripped-down approach. The built-in software offered just a few tools like a notepad, calendar, and contacts, and it lasted weeks on disposable batteries. 

"I like to keep things simple, and that's what the [PalmPilot] was all about," he added. "My smartphone is insanely powerful, but it's full of apps and choices and entices you to add more and more tools to supposedly make your life easier."

At the time, it was a much-coveted piece of tech that was seen as a symbol of success.

Osborne said he used his Palm for goal tracking, among other uses. He said the system was "simple yet effective," synching with his desktop and keeping him on target. 

"Of course, today I use my smartphone with ClickUp to share widely with my team," he added. "But, in some respects, my [PalmPilot] made reaching my goals seem like a greater accomplishment compared to my smartphone."

Technology publicist Brent Shelton said he was hit by a wave of nostalgia when he ran across his old PalmPilot while rummaging through his home on a hunt for computer cables.

"As a PDA early adopter, my Tungsten T5 was really my way to go paperless, and became an efficient way of taking digital notes that fit in your pocket without dragging around a paper pad, pen, [or] bulky briefcase everywhere," he said. "Mostly though, learning to utilize the Palm made it a little easier to adapt to all the next technology advances."

person using PDA with stylus

Joos Mind / Getty Images

But Shelton isn't nostalgic enough for his Palm to want to trade a more modern device for it. 

"Smartphone technology makes it hard to miss anything in particular, with the exception that at the time, if you had one, you were seen as someone ahead of technology and a little more organized," he said.

While the original Palm manufacturer is long gone, the name and the company's minimalist approach to technology live on in a newish Palm smartphone. A US company bought the name and makes a tiny phone meant to be a companion to your regular, larger smartphone. Verizon users can have the Palm phone share your phone number with your main phone for times when you don't want to carry too much. The sleek-looking Palm phone is available on Amazon for $229. 

"Palm is the best small phone for minimalists, athletes, and families," the company writes on its website. "Your entire digital life now fits in a coin pocket. Perfect for taking a break from your big phone."

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