Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Palm Pilot Experiment

Edited extract from Pretotype It (e-book PDF), 2nd Pretotype Edition, Alberto Savoia, Oct 2011

Introduced in 1996, the Palm Pilot was a palm-sized digital device with four basic functions: a calendar, an address book, a to-do list and a simple note taker.  The Pilot was the first successful PDA. According to a March 1998 story on Time magazine:

Hawkins, Palm's chief technologist and Pilot's creator, designed one of the first handheld computers, the GRiDPad, a decade ago. It was an engineering marvel but a market failure because, he says, it was still too big.  Determined not to make the same mistake twice, he had a ready answer when his colleagues asked him how small their new device should be: "Let's try the shirt pocket." Retreating to his garage, he cut a block of wood to fit his shirt pocket. Then he carried it around for months, pretending it was a computer. Was he free for lunch on Wednesday? Hawkins would haul out the block and tap on it as if he were checking his schedule. If he needed a phone number, he would pretend to look it up on the wood. Occasionally he would try out different design faces with various button configurations, using paper printouts glued to the block.

People must have thought he was crazy. But that piece of wood with paper printouts convinced Hawkins that he was on the right track. He had answered the first, and most important, question: “If I had a Pilot, would I actually carry it with me and use it?”  And his answer was a definite “yes!”  Now he could focus on the next set of questions, such as: Can we build it this small?  How much would it cost to build?  How long would the batteries last? 

No comments: