Trade-off section: Contrasting the Palm Pilot versus Apple Newton through the lens of fidelity/convenience

Marcio S Galli
3 min readAug 1, 2017


This presentation refers to a section of the book Trade-Off, when Apple Newton is contrasted with Palm using the fidelity/convenience lens. The ideas of the book might be biased with my interpretation.

Palm Pilot versus Newton

The Apple Newton was created by a multi-billion-dollar corporation as a promise to be a successful PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) turned out as one of the major failures.

The Palm, created by a founder that was desperately in need of money, on the other hand found its place as the successful case for of a PDA, while not the first.

Newton through the lens of fidelity/convenience trade-off

  • In retrospect, Apple Newton (released in 93) was too expensive — not convenient price, leaving a possibility to be a fit as high fidelity;
  • However, it was not as good, in terms of quality, performance, and flexibility, contrasting with a laptop;
  • Contrasting with the pen+paper, It was not as convenient plus quite expensive, us$700-US$1500;
  • It didn’t really changed or pushed the borders defining a category. It did not pushed the borders of the existing options in the at the time “category” of personal assistant applications (hand+pen+pencil, laptop, etc)

Palm Pilot conception

  • Demoed in 1996, launched based on knowledge of the PDA failures;
  • Graffiti was a way to capture writing with the stylus pen, requiring a learning curve, which by the way was not too complex, and worked;
  • New synching category unveiled;

Palm in contrast with fidelity/convenience

  • Palm was not super expensive (US$ 300+);
  • Screen made sense, used little battery, sun compatible;
  • Fit in the pocket, worked say in an airplane;
  • Synching was fine and unveiled capture and review, making sense to the PDA category;
  • High fidelity, on the go, due to size and battery, not beating high fidelity of laptops, but offering a good enough experience when laptop could not be carried around;
  • Highly convenient to take out of the pocket, and be able to annotate, for data that later would be useful, say for a calendar of as annotation;

Growth market and relation with adopting curve

  • PDA that make sense, size, screen, weight, data capture and writing;
  • Aura was okay, compatible with a way to escape the wrong way of the possible future; was the only way for a PDA to survive, and people knew it;

Pushing the borders and unfolding new experiences, needs and aspirations

  • Palm won a sustainable condition for a small window of time, with the audience that would be the early adopters of what would be the PDA/mobile;
  • Was a success, within the timeframe, if you look from the aspect that technologies were not sitting still. In a way it was a safe window of opportunity til something else appeared, probably something else directly influenced by palm too, therefore Palm redefined the borders of fidelity and convenience;
  • While Apple learned with the Newton, and buried it, they have in a way also learned with the other failures, and explored the possibility in the right moment to come up with the iPhone, the most exciting personal device;
  • “Early disasters and not necessarily disasters forever, and early victories don’t guarantee long-term success.” 1