Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Migrating from Palm Desktop to iPhone (or iPad)

I have a client who recently purchased a Verizon iPhone and wanted to migrate his Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Memos from Palm Desktop to his new iPhone. Contacts and Calendar migrated easily enough, but there's no built-in support for tasks and memos. In this post, I'll describe how I resolved this problem.

From Palm Desktop you can export your contacts in vCard format and import them into Apple's Address Book on your Mac. You can also export your calendar in vCal format and import it into Apple's iCal on your Mac. Address Book and iCal can be synced easily with iPhone or iPad.

The hard part was finding a solution for Tasks and Memos. Google searching turned up recommendations to use Outlook which can sync to the iPhone on Windows, or downloading a trial version of Missing Sync for Palm OS to export your Tasks into Apple's, and your Memos into Mark/Space Notebook. Once your tasks are in, you can sync with MobileMe and then use BusyToDo. Missing Sync also supports Bare Bones Yojimbo and Entourage, but these are incomplete solutions since Yojimbo is for iPad and read only at this time.

If you try this (as I did), make sure you backup both your Address Book and iCal data as described before attempting your first sync. On my first attempt, when I enabled MobileMe synching, it quickly duplicated every calendar entry. Yikes! I turned off synching and restored the calendar from the backup I had made earlier. If you sync your calendars, you have to be careful about local copies and what else might be lurking when you use Missing Sync. I decided to look for another solution.

When I searched the App Store for "Palm Memos", I was thrilled to find Notebooks and read the description of how to import memos from Palm Desktop. Nice!

Notebooks is actually a pretty interesting app for keeping notes compared to anything else I've seen. It has extensive synchronization features (DropBox, WebDAV, WiFi, iTunes,...) and works with many data formats including iWork, MS Word, PDF, html, etc. You can only edit plain text or "mark down" on your mobile device, but you can store and view most things you're likely to be interested in. It supports nested notebooks to any level, ToDos, and allows you to re-arrange your notes and books any way you want from your desktop or mobile device by synchronizing moves and deletions.

Notebooks recently added support for ToDos, and with some tweaking, I was able to capture the text of my clients ToDos, their category, and last modification date. Hopefully, Notebooks will add proper support for importing Palm Tasks. Here's what I did:

1. Exported my To Dos from Palm Desktop, format Tab and Return, name "ToDos.palm"
2. Opened my ToDos in AppleWorks as a spreadsheet
3. Cut column 4 and pasted over column 5 (without removing column 4)
4. Copied column 1 and pasted over column 2

If you press the "Columns" button while configuring your Palm export, you'll see the list of columns exported by Memos versus To Dos. I just mapped the To Dos columns to mimic Memos so I could import them into Notebooks. Using DropBox for synching, this worked well in my simple test run with a few dozen Tasks and Memos.

When I tried to transfer my clients hundreds of Memos and Tasks, the Memos failed to load part way through, and the resulting Tasks folder caused an error when I tried to sync using DropBox. It turns out there were problematic entries in the files I exported from Palm Desktop. Using Bare Bones Text Wrangler, I was able to study the progress or error messages and find the corresponding problem records in the exported Palm Desktop files (by line number or text snippet). Category names must not end in a space, and records must contain a valid title or body. After a few attempts at cleaning up the files and converting to UTF8 encoding, I got everything to transfer successfully.

Once the Tasks have been extracted by Notebooks, you can tell it to display each book as a task list to allow checking off individual tasks.

Finally I learned from the Developer of Notebooks for iPhone and iPad (Alfons Schmid) that he is working on a companion Mac version to create a complete and elegant solution. Currently every Memo or Task is represented on the Mac by a plain text file you can edit directly, and a ".plist" file containing various properties (which you can also edit). While not a perfect solution, it was good enough to ease the transition to iPhone and better than anything else I could find. With a Mac version of Notebooks, iPhone will finally be able to approach the elegance of the Palm Treo and Palm Desktop for keeping Tasks and Memos.


  1. I appreciate your intensive testing with this! While I have an iPad and a Blackberry, my Palm 700p is still my primary me old fashioned. Every time one dies, I buy another one on eBay! I couldn't loose all my data that is combined into one desktop...which I still love, by the way.
    Yesterday I found notespark which synchs all Palm memos to my iPad and with over 850 memos on my Palm, it did it perfectly.
    Now, I guess I'm ready to buy an iPhone, try these tips above, and maybe I'll be able to wean myself off my Palm. I don't know though, could be tough as the Handspring was just such a great tool for so long.

  2. I've been using a Palm Tungsten E for years and have thousands of Memos, Contacts and Calendar entries that I don't want to use. If I can get them into an iPhone, I will buy an iPhone. What if we do not have a Mac? My laptop is windows. Are there any decent options for me?

  3. I found what has been the ideal solution for me. I've held off upgrading from my Treo 650 because I wanted something that would sync *and* give me "Palm Desktop" compatibility in Windows. A program called "CompanionLink" ( does it perfectly, and they provide DejaOffice on the iPhone side for free. It only took me 15 minutes of the free trial to know it was the perfect solution for me and I bought it. No regrets now of moving from my decade-long dedication to the Palm platform.