The Evolution of the PDA: 1975-1995

by Evan Koblentz, editor, Computer Collector Newsletter — posted May 2005, version 0.993

Last update: Oct. 29, 2005

This document is a comprehensive timeline of the evolution of personal digital assistants. Specifically, my intention is to clarify which companies premiered each of the primary front-end features that are considered standard in modern devices, from the technology’s invention to its acceptance as a mainstream product category in the mid-1990s. This is not a discussion of back-end technologies such as architectures, chips, programming interfaces, and speeds. By “premiered,” I mean “first to actually include the technology in a relevant product,” not necessarily the actual inventors of each technology. For example, it is almost impossible to know who invented the first miniature keyboard although there is a relevant patent, and similarly the invention of handwriting recognition technology goes back several decades. However, we can say with near certainty which were the first handheld devices to include these technologies. It is the gathering of all these first-of-breed offerings that together created modern handhelds. This research is an ongoing project of mine that began in 2001. My original plan was to compile it in book form; however, I decided to post it online in May 2005 after receiving media and research requests for such information. (My book plan now focuses on a different but related subject.) There are other PDA histories on the web, but none that are accurate or thorough, and most of which are flagrantly incorrect. (Having said that, I feel comfortable calling most of my research complete, except where noted. Conversely, this document itself should be considered a beta version, as I’m posting it in a hurry and there is always more to learn.) Please contact me if you find any errors of fact or omission or if you have comments.