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Piloting Palm: The Inside Story of Palm, Handspring and the Birth of the Billion Dollar Handheld Industry [Secure eReader]
eBook by Andrea Butter & David Pogue

eBook Category: Business
eBook Description: Palm insider Andrea Butter and New York Times columnist David Pogue--with full, exclusive cooperation of the company's founders and more than fifty key Palm and Handspring executives--tell the riveting tale of the start of an industry constantly in the headlines. The origins of this volatile industry began with the tiny team who beat staggering odds to turn the PalmPilot into a billion-dollar market and later took their ultimate vision to Handspring, now Palm's most powerful rival. Many of today's current events relating to the competition in this industry are forecasted in this important business drama. The authors take an unprecedented look at how the visionary founders of the industry led one of the most successful startups in history to succeed against all odds-including a shoestring budget, shortsighted corporate partners, and competition from Microsoft. The roller-coaster ride is full of insight into the bungles of venture capitalists, the allure and pitfalls of partnerships with giant corporations, and the steely determination needed to maintain entrepreneurial and visionary independence. With gripping accounts of the last-minute crises that almost torpedoed the PalmPilot on the eve of its unveiling, and the triumphant, unprecedented reception of Palm in the marketplace, as well as the glimpses into the future of this industry, this book is as entertaining as it is instructional.

eBook Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc./John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2002

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"That's it -- I've got it!"

Breathless with excitement, Jeff Hawkins pushed his chair back from the desk and started pacing in the small room that served as his home office.

Only six months earlier, in December 1985, Hawkins would have been considered fairly typical for a Silicon Valley techie. Tall, lanky, and affable in the manner of an introverted guy who's learned to be sociable, he had a wife, an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Cornell, and a promising career at a high-tech firm. But that was before he abandoned his job to pursue a quixotic dream: to solve the mystery of the human brain. Over the years, Hawkins's interest in the workings of the brain had become an obsession: He became driven to decipher the enigma of human intelligence, to learn how the brain understood its environment. In his spare time, he read every book and journal he could lay his hands on, but found only partial answers.

He needed more time to focus, time that a nine-to-five job didn't afford, and a good library. Finally, leaving his steady job and income behind, Hawkins enrolled in a graduate-level biophysics program at UC Berkeley.

His wife Janet worried about the decision. Hawkins's father Robert, a prolific inventor, had spent a lifetime chasing dreams. When he quit his engineering job to work on his inventions, the family had to scrape by on Mrs. Hawkins's teacher's salary.

Robert Hawkins's inventions found little commercial success, but left an indelible impression on Jeff. One creation, designed to decipher the communication of dolphins, won Robert modest fame. Another creative spark led to a line of folding houseboats.

And then there was the huge, 16-sided boat with eight retractable legs that Robert spent years building, with his three sons' assistance. On land, it looked like a gigantic, hulking spider, 51 feet in diameter and weighing 50 tons. Officially called SeaSpace but nicknamed the Bubble Monster, the boat was the world's largest air-cushion craft at the time -- and probably the only one kept afloat by a vacuum-cleaner fan. In the end, the Hawkins family sold it to a touring orchestra, whose leader hired Jeff and his brothers as first mates during summers.

Jeff Hawkins couldn't escape this legacy. He thrived on solving mental problems like those in the mathematical puzzle books he'd read as a teenager, and could solve those that stymied others. By the time he reached adulthood, Jeff Hawkins had also developed his father's thick skin; he didn't particularly care what other people thought of his ideas, and had no problem swimming against the tide of consensus.

* * *

Between classes at UC Berkeley, most of Hawkins's time was spent in the library. "It was like a big puzzle," he says. "I was tracking down what scientists had written, I found who was doing interesting work, what else they'd written about, what other people thought about that person, trying to piece it all together. It was like trying to solve a murder mystery with thousands of clues."

As it turned out, plenty of people had researched the brain, but nobody had nailed an overarching theory of what brains do and how they work. None could account for how a human brain really understands, learns, and remembers.

The idea that would change his life forever struck Hawkins six months into his studies, while reading in his home office one night. "Our intuition about what brains do is wrong," he says. "All the research ignores the role that time and prediction play.

"People think that our perception of the world is like looking at a picture. You take a picture and analyze it, then you look at another picture, and you analyze it, and so on. But the way we experience the world is more like listening to a song. All our inputs, whether they're sound or touch or vision, change over time. We can only experience them through time; we can only recall them through time. You can't recall a memory all at once; you can only recall it sequentially -- like a song. If I say, Do you know 'Yellow Submarine' or 'Mary Had a Little Lamb?' you'll say yes, but you can't imagine the whole song all at once. You can start it and you can play it back piece by piece; the role of time is essential."

So is the role of prediction, Hawkins says. If the shape of your doorknob were altered, slightly and without leaving a visual trace, you would still know that something had changed the instant you touched it. "We are constantly making predictions about what we will experience next, much as we anticipate the next part of a song while we listen to it," he says. "Prediction of time-changing patterns is the key to intelligence."

When it dawned on Hawkins that he might have found the missing link to an overarching theory of the brain function, excitement drove him from his desk. If his idea were right, it could lead to discovering, at last, how a human brain works.

Then trepidation set in. What if he were wrong?

Hawkins spent the next year and a half questioning his own theory from every possible angle, weighing it against every piece of data he came across, but he could find no flaw.

In fact, he became convinced that his insights about how the brain worked were just the beginning. He foresaw that machines could work on the same principles -- devices that could understand the world around them. "There will be a big business building intelligent memory systems that work the same way brains work," he told his wife.

They would be nothing like the robots or androids of science fiction. Instead, he envisioned machines that could translate languages accurately because they understood the context of each word the way people do; vehicles that could drive themselves because they "understood" cars and traffic; and security surveillance systems that could distinguish between roaming dogs, late-night workers, and real burglars, knowing how to react to each one.

The impact of technology with human-like intelligence could be enormous -- perhaps as dramatic as the invention of the transistor in 1948. The transistor ultimately became the basis for all electronic equipment; most people use millions of transistors in their homes, jobs, and cars without even knowing it. The "brain business," as Hawkins called it, could generate a similar avalanche of useful tools. And he knew one thing: The resulting industry would dwarf the PC business.

His department's chairman liked the idea. There was just one hitch: Hawkins would have to spend another six years in standard graduate and postdoctoral programs, studying topics he wasn't especially interested in, before he could focus on the research he was passionate about. The corporate world was far more attractive. In the role of a product creator, he had a better shot at what he really needed: the credibility and financial independence to fund the research he wanted to pursue.

And so, at 31, Jeff Hawkins had a master plan for his life:

Step 1.  Quit UC Berkeley to return to the high-tech corporate world.

Step 2.  Earn enough money and prominence to finish the brain work.

Step 3.  Go into the "brain business."

With that, he called up his previous employer and asked to come back to his job. He wasn't sure how the road before him might twist or turn, but at least he had a plan for where he was going.

Copyright © 2002 by Andrea Butter, David Pogue

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