The return of…Palm?

Andrew Orlowski at The Register:

Of all the intellectual property rights on which our future prosperity depends, perhaps trademarks are the most undervalued. The deep emotional power of a brand endures, long after its parent has expired.

Don’t believe me? Well, Palm is coming back. Yes, Palm.

This sounds like a Palm-in-name-only deal where the 2000s era name will be affixed to an Android phone for…nostalgia seekers? Seems odd to me.

iFixit’s 128K Mac teardown

iFixit takes a break from cracking open the latest Mac Pro and turns their attention to the original Mac for the 30th anniversary of its release.

Cult of Mac will have us note that no vintage Macinti were harmed in the making of this guide — although with a pretty awesome 7 out of 10 repairability score, they didn’t have to worry much about us breaking it. Disassembly was straightforward once we figured out how to open the case.

Apple’s Newton, 20 years on

Wired’s Matt Honan takes an interesting look back at the first PDA:

Newton was conceived on an airplane. That’s where Michael Tchao pitched the idea to Apple’s CEO, John Sculley, in early 1991. The company would announce it the following year, and the first product in the Newton Line, the MessagePad went on sale twenty years ago this week in August of 1993. It was Apple’s handheld PDA–a term Apple coined to describe it. By modern standards, it was pretty basic. It could take notes, store contacts, and manage calendars. You could use it to send a fax. It had a stylus, and could even translate handwriting into text. Well, sort of. At the time, this was highly ambitious. Handheld computers were still largely the stuff of science fiction.

It’s fascinating that Apple (and later Palm) thought that handwriting recognition should be the default method of input instead of an onscreen keyboard, even though people had been using keyboards for decades to write words faster.  Palm’s Graffiti shorthand language went so far as to make you learn a whole new way to handwrite letters.  Crazy.

Remembering Jack Tramiel

Perhaps it’s been a little too easy for most of us to overlook the passing of Commodore International founder Jack Tramiel this past week, but his influence is far reaching even today.  In the 1970s personal computers were just taking off, but the cost of systems like the Apple II made them prohibitively expensive for many.  After releasing the Commodore PET  for the education market in 1977, Tramiel’s company focused on reducing component costs and selling an affordable computer directly to consumers.  That computer was the VIC-20, and it hit the market in 1981 for $299.  I received one for Christmas that year, and I was hooked.

By 1982 Commodore took the form factor of the VIC-20 and released its successor: the Commodore 64, which went on to become the single best selling computer of all time.  Retailing for $595, it had capabilities that rivaled or surpassed systems costing more than twice as much.  Tramiel then decided to cut prices further to gain market share, prompting an all-out price war with competitors (Apple decided not to get into the price spiral to the bottom and kept their prices and margins higher).  Commodore’s board of directors was less than pleased with this strategy and by 1985 Jack Tramiel had resigned, eventually moving on to Atari in an attempt to compete with Apple.

Tramiel was a Holocaust survivor.  In 1939 he and his family were shipped to a Jewish ghetto after the German invasion of Poland, and eventually he ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Two years after being rescued by Allied forces in 1945 Tramiel emigrated to America.  In one of his last interviews Tramiel said that in the 1980s he had made a point to aggressively sell Commodore computers in Germany so he could educate that nation’s youth about the Holocaust, using software developed by his company.

Jack Tramiel made it clear that he wanted computers to be “for the masses, and not the classes.”  Back in the early 80s that was a very big deal, and Commodore went a long way towards getting this emerging technology in front of a lot of young people, myself included.  With my VIC-20 poised on a TV tray and wires running to the family television I had a least a dozen kilobytes of RAM and a cassette deck to load and save my BASIC programs.  I graduated to an Apple IIe a few years later, but that early shot at computers and programming helped get me to where I am now.  Thanks, Jack.

The iPad and the retro arcade

Retro gaming is staging a mini revival on the iPad.  Earlier this year ION released the iCade, a scaled-down arcade cabinet that controls the iPad via Bluetooth.  Initially it was only compatible with Atari’s Greatest Hits collection, but developers have been steadily adding support for additional games.  I have it, and I can say that it’s a lot of fun if you’re into that classic arcade experience.  Now Atari, the quintessential “retro” company of the early 80s, is releasing their own controller.  Raymond Wong at Dvice addresses the question of usability:

To answer that question in one word: average. A modern joystick experience can be pretty hit or miss. Sometimes they move around smoothly and sometimes, as with Atari Arcade, they’re really stiff. There’s nothing wrong with the Atari Arcade — it’s a very sturdily built peripheral and feels like it could survive a few hard drops — but it’s just that controlling games with the joystick feels imprecise.

Atari has also chosen to use the iPad dock connector instead of Bluetooth for communicating with the controller.  This means that the only game that is currently compatible is Atari’s own Greatest Hits package.  Whether or not other developers jump on board still remains to be seen.