The history of mobile OS: from programmable calculators to PalmOS

To start the story about the origin of mobile operating systems, you first need to figure out what devices they were intended for and what functions they should have performed.

Programmable calculators and first handheld computers

In the late 60s of the twentieth century, Intel, Wang Laboratories, Sony, Casio began producing handheld calculators. Over the 12 years of its development (from 1954 to 1966), their weight decreased from 25 to 1 kilogram. The main problem of these calculators was the very high power consumption due to the use of LED displays. The batteries lasted no more than two hours of work. This problem persisted until 1975, when Sharp released a calculator equipped with an LCD display. Runtime increased to 100 hours. But that was not the point. The fact is that LCD-displays allowed to reflect an arbitrary picture - text and graphics. This has become a great help for future handheld computers, before which there is very little time left.

The first handheld computer can be considered Radio Shack Pocket Computer TRS - 80, which appeared in 1980. It was equipped with built-in batteries, had 1.5 KB of RAM, as well as a BASIC language interpreter embedded in ROM, which allowed you to create your own programs. The display displayed in one line up to 24 characters. As an accessory, a printer connected to a computer was available, as well as a cassette storage device. At a price, the computer was comparable to the programmable calculators of the time and cost $ 250.

In 1984, the English company Psion released its first electronic organizer (Psion Organizer 1), a revolutionary device of its kind. Outwardly, it looked like a “brick” and fit in the palm of your hand, had a processor with a clock frequency of 0.92 MHz, 2 KB of memory and two slots for installing extension cartridges, a 16-character alphanumeric screen, a 37-key keyboard. This device combined the functions of several devices at once: a clock, a calculator and a notebook.

An interesting device was released in the same 1984 by Seiko. It was a computer in a wristwatch with a screen of 4 lines of 10 characters.

1989 was a fundamental year in the history of mobile computers. Atari Computers introduced Portfolio Portable at COMDEX on April 11th. Unlike the TRS-80, which, despite all the assurances of the manufacturer, was just an improved programmable calculator, it was a full-fledged computer running DIP DOS (analogous to MS DOS 2.11).

Becoming a PDA
Around the same time, three technology giants IBM, HP, and Apple Computer entered the PDA market at once.

April 23, 1991 was introduced HP-95LX. The acronym LX stands for Lotus Expandable. The computer was designed to work with Lotus 1-2-3, was able to send mail, as well as remotely download files. The technical features of the device were not so familiar for that moment, it was MS DOS 3.22, the presence of 512 KB of RAM, an LCD screen that displays up to 40 characters (25x80 or 248x128 pixels). At the time of release, the device cost $ 699. Of the features of the device, it should be noted that there are hot keys for accessing certain functions, such as a calendar or phone book.

In September 1991, the world saw a new handheld computer from Psion, which was made in the laptop form factor and had 128 or 256 kilobytes of internal memory, had the built-in programming language OPL.

January 1992 was marked by the emergence of the term PDA (personal digital assistance), which became for many years a synonym for a handheld computer, which should be considered John Scully, who was then the head of Apple Computer. In his interpretation, PDA is a handheld computer controlled by a stylus through the screen. In May of that year, the company introduced Apple Newton, running Newton OS. It was the first operating system to support touch input. It was completely written in C ++, characterized by low energy consumption, efficient use of RAM - most applications were built into the PDA ROM, thereby saving DRAM and flash memory for user applications.

In the same year, IBM introduced its version of the handheld called Simon, which was running the Zaurus operating system. In addition to a standard mobile phone, Simon also contained a calendar, address book, world clock, calculator, notebook, e-mail and fax applications, as well as several games. All management of IBM Simon was carried out through the touch screen.

In October 1993, a consortium of Palm Computing, Casio, Tandy, Geoworks, Datalight, America On-Line, and Intuit created rival Apple Newton and IBM Simon - Zoomer. Zoomer computers were running object-oriented, graphical, multitasking, and multithreaded versions of the GEOS OS. The claimed battery life was up to 100 hours with a mixed mode of operation - one minute of text input for 10 minutes of passive work. Not very convenient handwriting input system, weak processor, lack of data exchange with a PC, and a rather high price became the reason that this project was unsuccessful.

The main functions facing the PDA of the first half of the 90s were - downloading mail, accessing corporate networks and receiving files from them. Access to the Internet was not in the list of required functions due to the expensive airtime for data transfer and the small coverage of mobile operators. The guys decided to change the situation from Nokia.

The first communicator from Nokia and the last from Apple
Around the mid-90s, a tendency to create hybrid devices that combine the functions of a mobile phone and PDA, the so-called communicators, appears.

One of the first devices was the Nokia 9000, released in 1996 - a massive device with a disproportionately small display outside. But when the communicator’s case was revealed, a large black-and-white screen with a resolution of 640x240 pixels was found. On the second folding part was a keyboard.

The communicator provided many functions unusual for the telephone of that time. This is sending and receiving faxes, the ability to work with e-mail and, most importantly, the Internet. The main difficulty in creating a mobile browser was the lack of touch input. But Nokia found a simple solution: when scrolling through the page, the first link it found was highlighted, and it could be clicked. The browser either scrolled the page or jumped to visible links. Today, this behavior is not unusual, all browsers on regular phones work just like that, but Nokia was the first device. All this was made possible thanks to the Intel 386 processor and its own OS - GEOSTM 3.0.

While Nokia was gaining momentum in a new market for itself, Apple was slowing down more and more. This ended with the fact that in 1998, Steve Jobs ordered the closure of the PDA department and curtail the development of Newton OS. Until 2007, Apple pushed itself away from the world of smartphones and PDAs.

Palm OS vs. Windows CE
1996 became a fundamental year in the development of mobile operating systems for the next 8 years. It was this year that two operating systems were released at once, which were destined by the industry standard for the coming years.

Microsoft, having sensed the prospects of the new market, is releasing Windows CE - a new operating system for handheld computers, which was a light version of the famous Windows 95 and contained truncated versions of a word processor, spreadsheet, email processing program and Internet browsing. The mouse was replaced by a touch screen. Like all Microsoft products, Windows CE 1.0 was very memory intensive. To work, she needed at least 2 MB of memory.

The first Palm PDA models were PalmPilot 1000 and PalmPilot 5000, whose RAM, respectively, was 128 KB and 512 KB. The PalmPilot 1000 was equipped with an MC68328 DragonBall processor with a clock frequency of 16 MHz. These devices were running Palm OS. Any action in the new operating system can be performed with a few touches with the stylus on the screen. Moreover, Palm OS turned out to be very fast, it did not require a lot of memory and a powerful processor, so the price of Palm devices was very low. All subsequent devices on this operating system retained this most important characteristic for a PDA. Only the most recent devices from the Tungsten and Zire series have outgrown the 100 MHz processor clock. This allowed us to maintain a rather low price of devices compared to PDAs. основанных на Windows CE.

An interesting feature of Palm OS was that the kernel of the OS licensed from Kadak was multitasking, and for the user it was single-tasking, albeit with the ability to play music in the background. The terms of the license agreement forbade Palm to disclose APIs to third-party developers for creating background tasks at the kernel level.

Since December 1997, PalmPilot began selling licenses for Palm OS, which was used by Nokia, Sony and other companies that produce mobile devices.

Later, the name Pilot disappeared, they were forced to remove it, for a rather comical reason - the well-known manufacturer of office supplies threatened to sue for violation of trademark rights. But I had to agree on the rights in the name of Palm. Micosoft Corporation was eager to name the keyboardless PDAs based on Windows CE not just like PalmPC, in order to attract more customers. But, in the end, Microsoft had to be content with the name Palm-Size PC, later changed to PocketPC. By the way, in 1998, the second version of Windows CE appeared, which had support for color screen and TrueType fonts.

Initially, the Windows CE developers interacted quite closely with the developers of the desktop Windows, so there was a lot in common in these systems, and a strong separation of the desktop and mobile versions of Windows began sometime in 2000, when Windows CE 3.0 Pocket PC Edition was released, later renamed Windows Mobile Pocket PC Edition was targeted at handheld computers, and the main difference from previous versions was support for QVGA displays and CompactFlash and Multimedia Card formats. One of the first communicators running this OS was Siemens SX45.

Support for devices without a touch display in Windows Pocket PC Edition appeared in 2002, simultaneously with the release of Pocket PC 2002, and the name Windows Mobile - in 2003. At the same time, there was a separation into three editions in Windows Mobile - the version for classic PDAs (Pocket PC for Pocket PC, Windows Mobile Classic), a version for communicators with a touch screen (Pocket PC Phone Edition, Windows Mobile Professional) and a version for non-touch devices with a classic telephone keypad (Pocket PC for Smartphone, Windows Mobile Standard).

While the range of capabilities of Microsoft's OS was expanding, Palm OS all stood in one place. For a long time, the Palm OS 6 Cobalt version was expected to be released, in which the developers were going to eliminate most of the problems inherent in the previous version, including planned multitasking, a redesigned graphical interface, support for high-resolution screens, etc. This version of the system was ready in 2004 and later even an updated version was released with the number 6.1, but, for an unknown reason, not a single serial device running Palm OS 6 Cobalt was released.

In opposition to Palm OS vs. Windows CE won the last. Microsoft did not manage to rejoice at the lack of competitors, as Nokia joined the battle with Symbian OS, but this will be discussed in the next article.