The long, twisted story of Palm begins with the Palm Pilot, a "personal digital assistant" (remember those?). The gadget kept users' calendars and contacts organized, and spawned a range of knockoffs and competitors. After making a splash in the market, Palm in 2002 decided to split itself in two: Palm (which would build hardware) and PalmSource (which would license the Palm OS to a growing number of companies like Sony and Kyocera).
But in 2003 Palm got interesting. That's the year Palm (the hardware company) acquired Treo smartphone maker Handspring (which was headed by a cadre of former Palm executives who believed PDAs needed to include phone calling functions). The Treo enjoyed a solid place at the forefront of the smartphone industry; the device offered a glimpse of a future where users would store their digital lives on their mobile phones. Treos and other Palm OS gadgets even featured third-party apps!
Palm continued to work to stamp out the smartphone market, going so far as to expand beyond the Palm OS by licensing the Windows Mobile platform from Microsoft in 2006--the teaming between longtime adversaries Palm and Microsoft largely echoes Nokia's recent agreement to drop Symbian and Meego in favor of Microsoft's new Windows Phone platform.
But all of Palm's actions did little to boost its market share beyond the outskirts of the wireless industry, and the company's aging products fell behind the likes of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion and, as everyone did, iPhone maker Apple.
So, in 2009, Palm began an ambitious attempt to rejuvenate its fortunes with an overhauled operating system: webOS. Palm debuted webOS via the Pre in 2009 with Sprint Nextel, but even after expanding distribution to AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, Palm's products failed to catch on in the market. Palm was left to search desperately for a buyer.
Enter Hewlett-Packard. HP purchased Palm in 2010 for $1.2 billion in a move the PC computer maker hoped would give it a way to compete in the white-hot smartphone market. HP also hoped to make a splash in the nascent tablet market with the world's first webOS-powered tablet.
But it was all for naught. Under HP's new CEO, Leo Apotheker, the company made a variety of missteps in the smartphone game, and earlier this year the company suddenly announced it would drop its smartphone and tablet business altogether (and would also spin off its giant PC business).
Thought HP's ultimate future is uncertain (HP's Apotheker was ousted for his mishandling of the entire situation), most agree that webOS and the Palm brand are destined for the wastebasket of the handset industry.