Palm OS based PDAs hold a special place in my heart. I was born in 1997 with two sisters from the 80s and a dad that catered to my technical interests. I grew up with a classic Macintosh and dial-up internet evnetually getting hand-me-down G3 based Macs. Late 90s tech was all around me. The one device that I absolutely covetted was the Palm PDA.
At 6 years old, I knew nothing about them other than they played Minesweeper and that I really wanted one. My parents, however, had no use for one. And, quite frankly, neither did I.
Fast forward just a couple years and my dream came true! A family friend handed me down their Zire 21. A year later, a teacher gifted me an old Handspring Visor.
As handheld tech got more advanced and smartphones became commonplace, more of these Palm devices would find their way to me. However, these devices I once lusted after would just end up in a drawer. It wasn’t until I realized I could write software for these devices that fire in my heart was relit.
Up until very recently (2021-2022), I had next to zero knowledge of Handspring. I knew there was a device called the Handspring Visor (since I had one as a kid) and that it ran Palm OS, but I had no clue the impact the company had on modern cellphones (THEY INVENTED THE FREAKING TREO FFS!)
The Verge put out a fantastic documentary on Handspring. The video is embedded below and a brief write up of the article can be found at https://www.theverge.com/2021/10/7/22711230/springboard-handspring-documentary-secret-history-first-real-smartphone.
The cool feature of the Visor was the expansion port that allows to devices called Springboards to be added to the device. One of these Springboards was a cellphone. This essentually turned the Visor into a Treo!
The original VisorPhone will never work on modern networks. With EDGE, 2G, and even 3G networks being shutdown in favor of LTE and 5G, these devices are permenantly relegated to the shelves.
LTE modems are getting cheaper and cheaper and the 16 MHz clock speed of the 68k processor variant is a turtle’s pace compared to today’s chipsets. All this makes for the perfect recipe for a modern cellular Springboard to pay the perfect homage to the ancestor of modern smartphones.
This is a project that will certainly stretch my capabilities in firmware, embedded software, and board bringup. As evident by the “Part 0” portion of the title, this will be a multi-part series. We’ll hopefully gain in intimate understading of the Visor hardware and operating system. Hopefully, we’ll learn new skills along the way and gain a greater appreciation for the small team of engineers that worked on this great device.
I’m excited to go on this journey and hopefully bring you along with me!