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The Mobile Road: Looking Back, Looking Forward : Page 3

By looking at the past trajectory of mobile devices in the marketplace, we can better understand where mobile computing is headed.

In 1992, Palm Computing started to create the Zoomer, a Geoworks-based mobile computer manufactured by Casio. The Zoomer failed, but Palm Computing survived by selling its handwriting recognition system for the Apple Newton platform, while its founders regrouped and released the original Palm Pilot in 1996, a low cost (relative to other mobile devices of the time) handheld computer running the first iteration of what came to be the Palm OS. This device had a rudimentary software development kit and excellent data synchronization capabilities, and was well received by the market. Fresh from this success, Palm Computing was purchased by U.S. Robotics Corporation, which was later purchased by 3Com, who made the Palm subsidiary an independent publicly traded company in 2000.

Developers can write applications for Palm OS in a number of different ways, but the most common languages used are C and C++ writing directly to Palm OS APIs. Over the years there have been numerous other programming environments ported to and developed for Palm OS, including Java MIDP run times, several Basic interpreters, Scheme, and other languages.

The Palm OS platform enjoyed wide success for many years and Palm OS powered devices are still manufactured.
Buoyed by success in the consumer and enterprise markets and several licensees, the Palm OS platform enjoyed wide success for many years. Palm OS powered devices are still manufactured in the form of the Treo, Centro, and Windows Mobile powered devices. Today, the majority of devices sold bearing the Palm OS platform are in fact smart phones, a tribute to the convergence of mobile computing devices and wireless telephone/data services. In recent years, Palm has struggled with maintaining a state-of-the-art operating system capable of supporting today’s demand for media-rich applications--given developers’ persistent demands for operating system features including true multitasking and better memory management. Initiatives by the subsidiary PalmSource (later acquired by Access) and Palm itself have been slow to bear fruit, and with additional competition from other platforms, Palm’s market share has tumbled in the last several years.

Research in Motion’s BlackBerry
The BlackBerry platform, developed by Research in Motion, was introduced in 1999, and pushed email to mobile devices. Research In Motion also provides the BlackBerry Connect software, enabling other platforms such as those running Palm OS the ability to have the same always-on push access to email, so that the network delivers email to the device, rather than the device needing to poll for email. Originally using a proprietary SDK, BlackBerrys now run Java ME, depending on the target hardware. Applications signed with a special digital signature have access to additional APIs made available by Research in Motion to more tightly integrate with the device file system, personal information management software, firmware and messaging capabilities. The choice of Java makes BlackBerry software development attractive to most mobile developers, because it’s easy to modify a Java ME application to run on the target device.

The BlackBerry platform, like the Palm platform, started simply as a monochrome device with only email access. As the technology evolved, Research in Motion added voice and other capabilities to the device, permitting it to converge with the mobile phone. Today’s BlackBerry devices are often cosmetically indistinguishable from other mobile phones, with the exception of the email experience, which is tightly integrated between the user’s BlackBerry and the desktop.

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