Background

I sometimes use my Treo 680 as a voice recorder to capture ideas for songs. For a long time I thought all the files were being backed up to my Mac. It wasn’t until I had to do a hard reset, that I realized they were not restored to the Voice Memo application as selectable voice memos. They were still on my Treo, but I couldn’t get to them or play them.

When I looked through my Palm user data files on my Mac I saw that they were in the backup folder as vpad.pdb files.
[ ~/Documents/Palm/Users/palm_username/Backups] $ ls -al | grep Vpad
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 5430 Jul 5 20:13 07-10-22-16-32-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 3782 Jul 5 20:13 07-10-22-16-322-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 188406 Jul 5 20:13 07-11-14-1-24-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 64214 Jul 5 20:13 07-11-20-18-22-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 11590 Jul 5 20:13 07-11-20-18-222-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 79030 Jul 5 20:13 07-11-20-18-23-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 84390 Jul 5 20:13 07-11-20-18-25-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 40790 Jul 5 20:13 07-11-25-19-38-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 60518 Jul 5 20:13 07-3-16-21-37-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 107014 Jul 5 20:13 07-3-20-0-19-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 28038 Jul 5 20:13 07-3-20-0-23-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 43270 Jul 5 20:13 07-3-20-0-25-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 425270 Jul 5 20:13 07-7-24-1-45-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 131254 Jul 5 20:13 07-8-5-0-25-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 317942 Jul 5 20:13 07-8-5-22-36-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 333974 Jul 5 20:13 07-9-17-23-06-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 278870 Jul 5 20:13 08-2-10-18-31-Vpad.pdb
-rw-r--r-- 1 user user 85606 Jul 5 20:13 08-5-20-21-25-Vpad.pdb

However, there were no playable audio files where I expected to find them (/Users/username/Documents/Palm/Users/palm_username/Voice%20Memo/). That was when I realized that the hotsync conduit for Voice Memo did not work, and never had been working. There seems to be some incompatibility between the Treo 680 voice memo files and Mac OS X. I don’t see why this has not been fixed yet, but whatever the cause of this negligence on the part of the developers, I was stuck with a bunch of Vpad.pdb files that I could no longer access on my Palm or play on my Mac. Some of them were extremely important to me, containing ideas for an upcoming album.

Details of my scenario:
Palm Treo 680 running Palm OS Garnet v. 5.4.9
Voice Memo version 1.4
HotSync Voice Memo conduit version 1.0 (so that's why!!! :-) )
Mac OS X 10.4.11

Nevertheless, I felt fairly confident that embedded in these pdb files were some kind of normal audio file format. I could not imagine that Palm would have invented an entirely proprietary compressed audio format.

I started digging around the Web for other users with similar problems. I was sidetracked by the fact that a lot of Palm devices evidently save their Voice Memo files in Qualcomm’s PureVoice? format, and spent hours downloading software, renaming the Vpad files, and trying to extract anything out of them.

And then I found this posting by a Windows user (Prof TJ Marinello in the Netherlands) who indicated that in the case of the Voice Memo application on the Palm Treo 680, the files were saved in Adaptive Multi-Rate (AMR) format. However, there were still no software tools available for extracting and playing them on the Mac. I tried renaming the .pdb files with an .amr extension and playing them in the RealMedia player (which evidently supports AMR), but all to no avail.

How to resurrect the Vpad.pdb files to playable AMR format

So, finally, and here’s the tip, guessing that there was probably some extraneous file header information in the file that needed to be stripped away, I opened one of the Vpad.pdb files in a text editor, and searched for AMR. I struck gold: The tag #!AMR was in the third line of output. However, when I tried to remove the preceding characters in my text editor, and saved the file, it still didn’t play. I noticed that the text editor wasn’t sure how to display the binary data in the file, so I decided to use the shell-based text editor pico (nano) instead. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Create a new folder on your Desktop. Name it something like “Vpad to AMR” or whatever will help you remember what they’re for.
  2. Go to your Palm Desktop Backups folder (~/Documents/Palm/Users/palm_username/Backups) and grab all your Vpad.pdb files. They will be named like this: 07-7-24-1-45-Vpad.pdb.
  3. Copy the files to the folder you created on your desktop. You want to keep the originals untouched, in case something goes wrong.
  4. Open your terminal (iTerm, or Terminal, or whatever shell you use).
  5. Navigate to the folder where you saved your copies of the Vpad.pdb files. cd ~/Desktop/Vpad\ to\ AMR/
  6. Open the first Vpad.pdb file in pico.pico 07-10-22-16-32-Vpad.pdb
  7. A garbled text view will appear, with a text-based menu at the bottom. Hit the Control key and the w key at the same time (CTRL+w). You will see a bar at the bottom of the screen that says “Search: “. Type #!AMR in the search box, and hit Enter.
  8. Now remove all the characters preceding #!AMR by holding down the Delete button until you get to the start of the file. At the very top of the screen you should now see #!AMR as the first line of the file.
  9. Save the file by hitting the Control key and the o key at the same time (CTRL+o). Pico will ask you “File name to write:” followed by the name of the file. Simply hit enter to save overwrite the original file.
  10. Exit pico by hitting Control and the x key (CTRL+x).
  11. You can now rename the file with an .amr extension. Mac OS X may try to preserve the .pdb extension by adding it in hidden form to the end of your file name. Do a get info (Cmd+I) on the file to make sure you’ve named it 07-3-20-0-25-Vpad.amr instead of 07-3-20-0-25-Vpad.amr.pdb
  12. Open it in RealAudio player and you should hear a rendition of the file in pretty poor audio quality. But it’s there!*
  13. If successful, repeat for all your other Vpad.pdb files.

* Theoretically you should be able to play the file in QuickTime player as well, but in my experience, I would only get a few seconds of audio and then QuickTime thought the .amr file was done. Playing it in RealAudio was the only way I could hear the entire file.

Remaining Issues

  1. If you have a lot of Vpad.pdb files, you will get tired of opening and editing them sequentially in pico. I only had ten of them, so for me, it was not so bad, but if I had had hundreds, I would have written a Perl script to open the files in binary aware mode, and do a s/// search and replace on the contents and then resaved them with a new extension. I leave that as an exercise for the motivated reader with a ton of files. For me, with only ten files to worry about, it was not a sound investement of time, much as I would have enjoyed geeking out on it.
  2. While you can play the files with decent playback quality (enough to recover the idea that was recorded), I haven’t seen any software for the Mac that will actually convert the AMR files to another format so you can save them, for example, as mp3 files, or whatnot. If you know of a method to do that (short of using QuickTime which will butcher the playback of your AMR file) please post a comment below.
  3. If you’re unlucky enough to not find the Vpad.pdb files in the Backups folder of your Mac, download and install the free Palm file-browser “Filez”. Dig through the files and see if you can find files that look like 08-5-20-21-25-Vpad.pdb either in the on-board memory, or your Secure Digital card. If you find one, send it to your Mac either via e-mail or Bluetooth, and you’re good to go: Place a checkmark next to the file you want to send (you can only send one at a time), and hit the “send” button. You will be prompted for sending either via Beam, Bluetooth, Email, or SMS.

This writeup reflects my experience in successfully recovering these orphaned files. Your milage may vary. If your situation differs from mine (different phone, different Voice Memo version), I probably can’t help you much. I post this in the hopes that it will help someone else, or at least guide someone else along the path. It’s annoying that no one at Palm or Treo has seen fit to address the issue, but it is a marginal issue for a company that is barely keeping itself afloat, unfortunately.


4 Comments to “Recovering vpad.pdb files from a Palm Treo 680 with Mac OS X”  

  1. 1 Shabeer

    hello i bought a palm 680 i don’t where the hell i lost it’s softwares please download it for me
    thanking you

    [Hello, please visit http://support.palm.com. Thanks.]

  2. 2 Shabeer

    hello i want to tell that how can i connect it to the internet by a mac network send answer
    [Please visit http://www.apple.com/support/ for general questions]

  3. 3 Beth

    I am having the same trouble getting the vpad files recovered from my treo. I don’t have a mac so I don’t know how to follow your instructions. But I did find a program that will convert the AMR to Wave. I don’t know if it will work on a Mac but look for Miksoft Mobile AMR Converter. I had to download Version 1.4 and then apply the 1.5 update since the actual 1.5 downloads seemed to have a file missing or something. Anyway, I hope this works for you.

    [Thanks for you detailing your experiences. I hope this helps someone else. –Kristofer.]

  4. 4 Richard

    Hello — I sincerely sympathize as I was challenged by this same issue.

    I found a much simpler solution, however. You can simply “SEND” the Voice Memo sound files from the Treo’s Voice Memo application to your Mac via email or Bluetooth. These show up as .AMR Files on the Mac (which Quicktime can play.)

    I usually convert these .AMR files to MP3s using a Shareware application called “Switch” for use on my iPod.

    Simple!

    ~Richard

    [Thanks for the helpful comment. Anyone else find that worked for them? I still can’t get Quicktime to play the .amr files.]