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U.S. robotics' $299 gizmo shot out like a pocket rocket after its April 1996 launch, with Dataquest estimating 340,000 Pilots were sold last year, for a 51% share of the standard hand-held

device category.

Not bad for a product in a market that's supposed to be dead.

Amid the early '90s fallout from overhyped hand-held devices such as the Apple Newton and the Casio Zoomer, Ed Colligan, VP-marketing at Palm Computing, and his colleagues created and marketed a different gizmo.

Pilot was positioned as a PC accessory, designed to be able to trade data with a PC rather than being a standalone item such as the Newton. Pilot also was small enough to fit in a pocket, handled basic needs such as tracking contacts, keeping a calendar and doing e-mail-all for half the price of Newton.

"From a positioning standpoint, Newton came out and overpromised and underdelivered," says Mr. Colligan, who has led marketing since he joined the company in June 1993, the summer that Newton came out. "We came out and underpromised and overdelivered."

USR bought Palm in September 1995, providing money to bring Pilot to market. Pilot, launched in April 1996 with about a $5 million ad campaign, aggressive PR and distribution at powerhouse retailers Circuit City and CompUSA, created waves of raves among the techno-gizmo crowd. Word of mouth borders on fanaticism: Devotees can't contain their enthusiasm for the product.

"Clearly there's some great software, but the revolutionary ideas were in the simplicity, the positioning, the industrial design and the user interface," says Mr. Colligan, 36.

Microsoft is pushing a rival pocket PC standard, Windows CE, but Pilot and its '97 version, PalmPilot, are the products to beat. Mr. Colligan now is intent on selling the masses.

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