SLIDESHOW

What HP Got By Buying Palm

Over the years, Palm made some really cool products--and considered making some really weird ones.

Palm Pilots That Never Were

When HP bought Palm on Wednesday, it got itself a powerful mobile operating system, two phones (plus whatever's in the pipeline), numerous talented people, and a venerable brand. And it also scored fifteen years' worth of mobile technology patents. Some of them resulted in iconic products. And some of them...well, didn't. I'm sure Palm leveraged some of the ideas in the patents you're about to see. But it also protected a bunch of concepts unlike anything that has ever carried the Palm name -- so far.

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Integrated Handheld Data Device Having a Sliding Form Factor

Patent filed November 30, 2001

On the outside, this gizmo would have looked a little like a Radio Shack TRS-80 Pocket Computer from the early 1980s. Pull it apart, though, and -- hey, there's a PalmPilot in there! The idea looks both ingenious and unwieldy, which presumably helps explain why it never resulted in a product.

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Wireless Phone With Removable Personal Information Manager

Patent filed May 29, 1998

This curio -- patented years before the first real Palm-based phone appeared -- was for a StarTac-esque clamshell cell phone with a PDA you could pull off and use separately. The connection between the two halves was in the form of a PC Card connector on the handset part, allowing you to also plug the phone into your laptop's PC Card slot and use it as a wireless modem.

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Integrated Joypad for Handheld Computer

Patent filed February 5, 2001

People like to play games on PDAs, even though PDA controls aren't nearly as good for gameplaying as a joystick. Solution: Let folks unscrew the tip from the stylus and then screw it into the PDA to create a minuscule joystick. Clever! But you gotta think that the chances were high that you'd leave the pointing tip screwed into the PDA when you put in your pocket, thereby risking poking yourself. Or maybe you'd just lose the tip altogether . . .

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System for and Method of Conferencing With a Handheld Computer Using Multiple Media Types

Patent filed May 30, 2002

This patent involves a Webcam-equipped, multimedia-enabled PDA that permitted for videoconferencing and WebEx-like online meetings. Neat -- and probably a tad ahead of its time given that the patent dates to 2002, before the dawn of 3G broadband and modern smartphones. Even in 2010, I'm not sure if we have anything quite this ambitious.

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Wall Mount Cradle For Personal Digital Assistants

Patent filed September 29, 2000

Back in 1995, when I met with Palm to see its first, then-unreleased PDA, executives explained a vision of a world in which people would have multiple networked docking cradles situated in various places around their home, and would go around plopping PDAs into them. I forget precisely what the benefit was supposed to be. But this patent for a wall-mounted PalmPilot dock may have been residual evidence of that unfulfilled dream.

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Non-Rigid Mounting of a Foldable Display

Patent filed January 18, 2001

Another Palm-based phone patent that dates from the years before Palm made phones, utilizing a concept that went nowhere. (I'm beginning to understand why it bought Handspring, thereby acquiring the Treo.) This one looks like a typical "candybar" model. Inside, though, it has a folding screen -- an idea which is perennially popular in patents but never seems to amount to much in real life.

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Moveable Display Device for Three-Dimensional Image Creation

Patent filed November 29, 2001

I can't quite tell from the patent just what Palm had in mind here. You move the little screen -- which may or may not be a Palm OS PDA -- around on the big screen, which can tell where the little one is. And a filter lets the little screen display images with a 3D effect. I suspect they were trying for some new breakthrough category of gizmo, but decided it just wasn't working.

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Movable Display Device

Patent filed November 29, 2001

A variant on the 3D display idea, filed with the U.S. Patent Office on the same day. The big screen folds up, the little one slides around on top of it, and they communicate with each other. Application: unclear. At least to me.

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Keyboard Sled With Rotating Screen

Patent filed June 20, 2004

Call it the Pepper Pad Fallacy: The notion that people like the idea of using QWERTY keyboards that have been split in two. This keyboard would have required a Palm OS PDA with a rotating user interface; the patent also covers a non-split variant and one for gameplay, with a tiny joystick and gaming buttons.

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Segmented Keyboard for Portable Computer System

Patent filed December 30, 2004

This looks strikingly like Apple's new iPad Keyboard Dock, but it's really a folding keyboard a la Think Outside's famous Stowaway. You have to be kind of nerdy to use a folding keyboard. You have to be kind of nerdy to love numeric keypads. You have to be really nerdy to want a folding keyboard with a companion numeric keypad.

More patent nostalgia:

Apple Patentmania: 31 Years of Big Ideas

Patentmania: The Golden Age of Electronic Games

Patentmania: Computers of the Early 1980s

Laptopia: The World' Weirdest Portable Computers

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