Six Clicks: Gadgets of yesteryear that defined mobile

Given how far it's come, mobile technology is not very old. In the early days, some outstanding gadgets set the stage for the mobile tech of today. These are six of them that had a big impact.
1 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Palm Pilot 1000

The original Palm Pilot revolutionized the mobile space. The handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) kept track of the owner's contacts, to-dos, and calendar.

Owners had to learn a special text input method known as Graffiti to get proficient, but millions took the time to learn it.

The Palm Pilot kept the owner's information synced with desktop computers via HotSync, a technology that made it all work well. The handheld was connected to a desktop computer via a cable, which kept all information up-to-date on both sides.

The biggest impact on mobile by the Palm Pilot was the introduction of apps, although they weren't called that back then. These little programs opened up the Palm Pilot to a lot of applications, and specialized apps appeared for most industries.

Both the company and the handheld are gone, but the impact on the mobile space is clear.

2 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

OmniSky Minstrel V

In the early days of mobile tech there were no data networks to keep devices connected. The most prevalent way to get a gadget connected was the cellular networks, slow as that was.

The Palm Pilot xv was a popular handheld, so a company built the OmniSky Minstrel V that snapped on the back of the Pilot. The Minstrel was a cellular data modem that got the Pilot xv online on demand.

The OmniSky had a rechargeable battery like the Palm Pilot. Its ability to connect via cellular networks turned the Pilot xv into a mobile email system. The speed was terrible and connections were expensive, but it brought mobile connectivity to the masses far ahead of other methods.

3 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

RIM 850

Before it was BlackBerry the company was known simply as RIM. The inventor of the BlackBerry phones initially was in the corporate pager business, and its first device was destined to make a splash with the enterprise.

The RIM 850 was not fancy, but it was a reliable way to keep in touch with the office. Behind the scenes, the secure data network was the pipeline produced by RIM that made it all work.

RIM went on to produce BlackBerry smartphones of all different shapes and sizes and eventually changed the company name to BlackBerry.

4 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Tandy TRS-80 Model 100

Before computers were a thing, with a few exceptions, the TRS-80 Model 100 was a mobile device for those doing a lot of writing. It was invented by Kyocera of Japan and licensed to Tandy, among others.

Tandy introduced the Model 100 to the American market and it was a boon to the target audience. It was basically a digital typewriter, with the advantage that text could be edited on the little screen.

The Model 100 was especially appealing to journalists due to its small size. It could be used anywhere to write up the news, edit it, and then file the copy with the editors in the office over a crude modem.

The Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 exposed folks to the advantages of stepping away from the antiquated typewriter and going digital.

5 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Compaq Portable

In the beginning there was only the IBM PC, as the company had patents on key components locking out the competition. This led to a small upstart, Compaq, that set out to break the hold that IBM had over the fledgling PC industry.

It did so in two ways — designing and building a portable system that put an entire desktop PC system into a single device. The Compaq Portable was a giant device that was barely portable, but it made it possible to close the lid and lug the gadget from one site to another, a first.

Compaq knew that to bring the Portable to market, it would have to deal with the patent IBM held on the BIOS of the IBM PC. This code was the brain behind the entire system, and IBM had it totally locked down preventing selling any type of clone systems.

Compaq set out to engineer its own BIOS, and set up a clean room environment to prove it developed its own BIOS clone without using any of IBM's code. By carefully documenting the BIOS building process, Compaq was able to successfully prove in court that its BIOS was its own and didn't infringe on IBM's work.

With the BIOS open, and Microsoft introducing MS-DOS to bypass IBM'S other protected component, Compaq introduced the Portable with great success.

The Compaq Portable launched the mobile PC business, and more importantly triggered the explosion of the PC clone industry.

6 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

HP Compaq tc1000

Compaq wasn't satisfied with just the Compaq Portable in the previous slide, it continued to innovate in the mobile PC area. It produced the Compaq tc1000 shortly before getting acquired by giant HP.

HP recognized the achievement of the tc1000 and ran with it. The 10-inch slate PC was a marvel of engineering as it crammed an entire PC clone in a device an inch thick. Compaq had figured out how to shrink the components, and most importantly how to deal with heat issues.

The tc1000 could be used as a slate or snapped onto a mobile keyboard designed for the tablet. This turned the tablet into a highly mobile PC that could be used as both a tablet and a laptop.

This made the tc1000 the first true Windows hybrid, a concept gaining in popularity today.

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