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History of the Apple Newton 222

Posted by Zonk
from the bonk-ow! dept.
Sabah Arif writes "We've all heard of Apple's Newton, the portable handheld device under John Sculley's rule at Apple that debuted to big media attention and much fanfare but never managed to take a strong footing in the marketplace. The same handhel that went on to be 'Steve'd' when Mr. RDF killed the project after taking control of Apple. That's the extent of knowledge most of us have with regard to Apple's first handheld device. OS Opinion sheds light on the early days of the pocket Apple." From the article: "Apple in the late eighties had become stagnant. The Macintosh had become Apple's cash cow like the Apple II that had preceded it. To protect the Mac, Apple was hesitant to start or pursue any project that might compromise the company's revenues. Several people in the corporation were weary of this approach, and began to look at the future of computing. One of those people was Steve Sakoman."
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History of the Apple Newton

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:29PM (#12706159)
    Eat up Martha
    • Re:Beat up Martin (Score:3, Informative)

      by xCepheus (687775)
      For those of you who are not a fan of the Simpsons or don't have all 350+ episodes memorized by heart this is a reference where the school bullies (Jimbo, Nelson and others) make a note on their Newton to "Beat up Martin" (Martin Prince one of the nerdiest and smartest kids in school) using the Newton Stylus. After writing in the phrase... the Newton interprets the Stylus input as "Eat up Martha." In frustration, the bullies throw the Newton at Martin which hits him in the head.

      God, I'm such a nerd.
    • Re:Beat up Martin (Score:2, Insightful)

      by justforaday (560408)
      Yet again, another clueless mod shows his ignorance...
      • Or +1 Insightful as it does bear some light on the poor Stylus input to text recognitions on the old Newtons.
    • If you used one of the original Newtons you would have seen this word more times than the sum of all previous times in your life. It seemed that every time I entered a contraction beginning with a capital I, this was what it was interpreted as. Gary Trudeau of lampooned the whole Fiji thing in his Doonesbury strip when the Newton came out.
  • by KFury (19522) * on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:31PM (#12706176) Homepage
    Written four years ago, here's a piece about Apple's other historical tablet initiatives [fury.com], and speculation about a Mac tablet (there's always speculation)...
  • I once got to talk with Larry Yeager, the guy who supposibly helped write the handwriting recognition software for the Newton and a lot of other neat software. He now lives about 30 minutes away from Bloomington and Apple paid the ISP I used to work for to have a T1 out to his house (back in the 90s when that was about $3000 a month for such a service). Really sharp guy, look him up on the net sometime.
    • "Rosetta! Rosetta! Rosetta!"
      • Re:Larry Yeager (Score:3, Informative)

        by pilgrim23 (716938)
        Since no one got it: the above is the embbeded Newton easter egg. Type Rosetta! Rosetta! Rosetta! and the 3rd Rosetta! is replaced by "Hey That's Me!" Incidentally, the same easter egg is there in the current Mac OS X's handwritting component: Inkwell. Understandable; the Newton software was far ahead of its time.
        • Good to know that Inkwell really is Rosetta (I don't have a tablet on my OSX box).

          I wonder if Inkwell is still temporal rather than spatial...

          Try writing TOASTER, but write the R first, then the O, and so on through ROSETTA.

          The 2100 would recognize that as ROSETTA. I totally flummoxed one of the SQA guys on Rosetta by saving that as ink and showing him what the recognizer did with it.

          (I think I used a different anagram, but the example serves.)
  • by MoonFacedAssassin (539728) * on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:35PM (#12706212)
    The Newton was way ahead of its time in many aspects: versatility, portability, object-oriented based language (at first), etc. If the Newton had flourished as well as our current Palm devices and Pocket PC devices, we might all be using Newtons, or a derivative, instead.

    Of course, we can all thank the Newton for paving the way to a lot of our mobile device concepts. Well, the Newton, and Star Trek.
    • pricing is important. As I recall, it didn't catch on because it was too expensive.
      They were like a grand each, in '80s dollars.
      • by Frangible (881728)
        I owned a MP130. The other problems were the built in software, while innovative, wasn't nearly as streamlined as the Palm PIM suite later released with the Pilot, the device was a bit sluggish, and the screen -- especially the MP100 -- was very hard to see and had a poor contrast ratio, and was really reflective and had lots of glare. Also, the handwriting recognition really sucked. And you're right, they were also pretty expensive. The Newton had a ton of good ideas and was very innovative, but it was

      • The newton cost $399 or $499. Not a grand...

        They did actually catch on and was quite a business when it was shut down.. .and a profitable one.

        The didn't sell as well as the palm did years later, but then, the palm has never sold as well as a $5 pocket calculator. (And compared to the newton, the palm is a pocket calculator.)

    • It was only ahead of its time because it was rushed to market and consequently didn't do what its target customer base needed it to do (or more specifically, it did, but made it 1000x more complex than needed). Maybe the Palm, which came out three years later, was not as Technologically Advanced as the Newton, but it was smaller and actually did what it needed to do. Hence why Palm is still in the market and Newton isn't.
    • If the Newton had flourished as well as our current Palm devices and Pocket PC devices, we might all be using Newtons, or a derivative, instead.

      So you're saying that if the Newton had been popular ("flourished") it would have been... Popular?

      Flamebait/Troll mods in 5... 4... 3...

    • I have gone to several PC Expos and Mac Expos at the Javits center in NY over the years. The first time I went to one I noticed every booth had a Newton hooked up to a card reader ( to scan your badge). Then Steve came back to apple and at that Expo there were no Newtons to be seen and I haven't seen any since.
    • Apart from chronology, the Newton was to the Palm as the Lynx was to the Gameboy. It was too big and the battery life was too short.
  • Defying Gravity (Score:5, Informative)

    by tsangc (177574) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:37PM (#12706234)
    There's a fantastic book called Defying Gravity about the development of Newton. It's worth the read.

    Sure wish I got one while they were around--a local store was giving away a copy free with every Newton 2100 back in the day.
    • My mother gave me a copy maybe 10 years ago. It is a facinating look inside Apple, and I thought it was interesting to see how their product development worked. Also - their decisions about what NOT to do...
    • I've got a copy of that.

      I got it cheap, 'cause it has "Defying Graviity" on the cover. You'd think someone would have caught that before it went to the printer...

      Though, granted, I owned it for years before I noticed it and realized why my copy had been so cheap. :)
  • Until problem is fixed Problem in Data base Connection
    try wikipedia for information
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Newton [wikipedia.org]
  • RDF (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mavpion (5416) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:38PM (#12706251)
    Reality Distortion Field [wikipedia.org] The "power" of Steve Jobs to convince those around him of any truth he wishes them to see.

    Though, the Newton really was a failure. It did many things right, but it was too bulky and costly: the Palm Pilot was less sophisticated, but it really matched what consumers needed.

    • Re:RDF (Score:3, Funny)

      by ch-chuck (9622)
      The "power" of Steve Jobs to convince those around him of any truth he wishes them to see.

      So Jobs is a Jedi?

      <waves hand>You will pay too much for this music player</waves hand>

      I will pay too much for that music player.
      • Re:RDF (Score:3, Funny)

        by InfoVore (98438)
        So Jobs is a Jedi?
        Does that make Bill Gates a Sith?

        Hmmm. Lets see, the attributes of a Sith:

        1. Ruthless. Check.
        2. Almost unstoppably powerful. Check.
        3. Desire to dominate all they see. Check.
        4. "Always there are two, a Master and a Apprentice". Gates & 'Monkey-boy' Balmer, Check.
        5. Has questionable personal hygene. (At least until he married Melinda) Check.
        6. Routinely double-crosses 'partners'. Check.
        7. Corrupts others with their dark power. Check.

        Looks like a match so far, though I'm not co
    • From a financial standpoint at least the Newton wasn't really a failure for Apple. Because of the Newton Apple was an early investor in Arm. When they sold off their Arm stock they made enough to cover the Newton R&D and then some.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:41PM (#12706277)
    I know some of you don't like the idea of Tablet PC but I think they are terrific personally. I've always wished that Apple would dump their Newton technology into a Tablet style machine. It would be fantastic for note taking during meetings and would allow me to better edit and distribute my notes. Not to mention the ones with the foldable keyboards are a more flexible form factor for mobile professionals like me. And I'd rather use a Mac than Windows with its underlying unix goodness and sweet interface.

    Who knows if we'll ever see it though. It's not clear if there is a big enough market (I think there is but the products aren't good enough yet) and Steve Jobs just doesn't seem fond of the idea. But if anyone could really make it work, I think it would be Apple. Guess I have to keep dreaming...
    • "I know some of you don't like the idea of Tablet PC but I think they are terrific personally."

      Truth be told, I'm stunned that the Slashdot community hasn't gone wild over the concept. (I suspect that the main reason here is that MS is touting it, therefore everybody goes into cynic mode...)

      The appeal of the TPC isn't the handwriting or all that malarky, it's that you can hold the unit and provide input to it while you're standing. In other words, you don't need a flat surface to use it like you do wit
      • For anybody doing a sysadmin'ish job (or carrying a clipboard around), it's MUCH preferable to a laptop.
        Proper sysadmins use a command line, and to use a command line, you need a proper keyboard.
        • "Proper sysadmins use a command line, and to use a command line, you need a proper keyboard."

          a.) Actually, no. You can easily do case sensitive command line stuff with a TabletPC. It's not as fast as a keyboard, I'll grant you that.

          b.) You have a very narrow view of what a Sysadmin does. He does not spend 100% of his time in a terminal window, especially if he's doing something like software inventory or verifying if a particular ethernet cable is working.

          I'm talking experience here, not theory.
  • by myawn (562028) <mike&theYawns,com> on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:42PM (#12706282) Homepage
    I'm not able to read the article, as apparently the site was slashdotted after the second reader.

    I had several Newtons - an MP 100, an MP 120, and finally an MP 2000 (that was later upgraded to an MP 2100). The technology improved dramatically over those generations, and I really would love to see what would have emerged had development continued.

    Since the Newton, I've used Palm, PocketPC, and Sharp Zaurus PDAs, and have yet to find anything I consider a worthy successor to the Newton. The integration of all the applications was seamless, and the software was truly designed to be used on a PDA, not just scaled down from some desktop application.

    The form factor was a little clunky - either a smaller pocket-sized device, or a full-size tablet would have been better in my opinion - but I'm still looking for an overall user experience that's comparable, and haven't found it.

  • at first when i read the headline i thought it was talking about fig newtons with apple flavor..
  • here [networkmirror.com]
  • by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:50PM (#12706352) Journal
    Thisis zketh the new ton with handwriting skjkl35. To be accurate, no sksk article can possibly de free of garbled tect.

    :)

    hawk

  • Egg Freckles (Score:3, Interesting)

    by soft_guy (534437) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:51PM (#12706374)
    In a MP 120 with the 2.0 version of the OS, write "Egg Freckles" and then hit Assist.

    In the prototype MP 2000 units (code named "Q"), the first run or EVT units: Write "About Newton" and press Assist. In the DVT and production units it says "What about Newton?" followed by "What about xxx?" where xxx is the name of each developer who worked on the project (sequentially).

    In the EVT units, instead of the developer names, it uses Larry, Moe, Curly, and Shemp.

    Also, you gotta love the Area 51 Easter egg in the first 2.0 Newtons.

    There was also a Solar Eclipse easter Egg, but I can't remember what OS version/models had it. (Possibly the MP100.)

    I love the Newton.
  • Article in full (Score:3, Informative)

    by oscast (653817) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:54PM (#12706403) Homepage
    "We've all heard of Apple's Newton, the portable handheld device under John Sculley's rule at Apple that debuted to big media attention and much fanfare but never managed to take a strong footing in the marketplace -- only to be "Steve'd" when Mr. RDF killed the project after taking control of Apple. That's the extent of knowledge most of us have with regard to Apple's first handheld device.

    Thomas Hormby submitted the following editorial to osOpinion/osViews, which gives us more in-depth knowledge about the Netwon project during its original development -- such as the fact that it could be said that the Netwon originated from a concept device Sculley called Knowledge Navigator."
    --

    Apple in the late eighties had become stagnant. The Macintosh had become Apple's cash cow like the Apple II that had preceded it. To protect the Mac, Apple was hesitant to start or pursue any project that might compromise the company's revenues. Several people in the corporation were weary of this approach, and began to look at the future of computing. One of those people was Steve Sakoman.

    Steve Sakoman worked at Hewlett Packard before he came to Apple, where he helped develop the first HP notebook. When he joined Apple he was happy that he 'was not going to make DOS clones for the rest of my life.' Steve had joined Apple to work on the MacPhone, a collaboration between Apple and AT&T.

    After the project was canceled, he saw that Apple was not willing to take the same risks it had with the original Macintosh or even the Macintosh II. He went to Apple's director of new products, Jean Louis Gass'e, and threatened to quit unless he was allowed to create the 'future Macintosh', a computer that would be as influential on the computer industry as the original Macintosh was. Gass'e sympathized with him, and gave him permission to begin an independent research group

    While Sakoman was at Hewlett Packard, he saw several 'hand entry computers that did not use keyboards. He was intrigued with the idea of scrapping the keyboard. The fact that most computers used a QWERTY keyboard was a mere fluke, he thought. Steve thought that a more natural method of input would take hold, like handwriting or speech.

    Sakoman set to work immediately, getting his brand new research group off the ground. He recruited developers from around the company, including some original Macintosh developers. Like the original Macintosh and their off-site office, Texaco Tower, the new team moved to a converted warehouse on Bubb Road. Steve named the team 'Newton'. He did so because Sir'Isaac Newton was featured prominently in Apple's original logo and because he had prompted so many changes in the way people viewed the world.

    At the time of the Macintosh II introduction, John Sculley had a video produced featuring his Knowledge Navigator device. He envisioned a tablet style device that would fold out to reveal a large color LCD display. The software would interpret the users commands via a humanoid assistant. The device could recognize voice commands, and interpret handwriting commands. Prescient of the internet, Sculley would have the device be able to communicate fluently with similar devices and servers around the world.

    The Knowledge Navigator never went any further than the video, but John Sculley hoped that the technologies he had envisioned in the device would find life in other Apple projects. He thought that the Newton would be able fulfill his vision, and became one of its most vocal proponents.

    The research group first found out what they wanted in a computer, and created a prototype design. Without any marketing staff, the team came up with a very advanced, very expensive device. The new machine was to be based on two AT&T Hobbit processors (a design that was very easy to program for) and would be about the size as an A4 sheet of paper, and feature a large, LCD, grayscale display. The true star of the new computer would be its software. The engineers wanted full handwriting recognition that
    • Steve thought that a more natural method of input would take hold, like handwriting or speech.
      When I drive a car, I quite like to use totally unnatural input methods, such as pedals and a steering wheel. I hope that when I board an airplane, the pilot shares a similar sentiment.

      Natural != the best in every situation.

  • by yardbird (165009) * on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:57PM (#12706431) Homepage

    He was intrigued with the idea of scrapping the keyboard. The fact that most computers used a QWERTY keyboard was a mere fluke, he thought. Steve thought that a more natural method of input would take hold, like handwriting or speech.

    Handwriting: vastly slower than typing, even for crummy typists like me.

    Speech: unusable except in private.

    Does anyone see anything replacing keyboards anytime soon?

    • by NeoSkandranon (515696) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @02:34PM (#12706770)
      Does anyone see anything replacing keyboards anytime soon?

      Datajack. :)
    • Does anyone see anything replacing keyboards anytime soon?

      Monkeys...or pidgeons. Chances are, they'll have a far less tenuous grasp on the written word than do the youth of today. Not to mention the fact that they'll work for next to nothing...
    • Telepathy.

      Or more accurately, creating an interface for a computer that can read your brainwaves so you can just think about what you want it to do. Probably 50-100 years off at least, but there are basics being done now (moving a cursor around a screen, etc).

      I think speech recognition will be used much more once we start getting more travel-friendly displays (e.g. beaming a display into your eyes from a pair of glasses or nearby low-powered laser). How often have I been driving and thought, "If only I co
      • Hmm. You must have the brain control of a Zen master.

        I regret to inform you that communication and control in the average human being is so full of "uh uh"s and "ya kno"s in thought as well as in speech that trying to use one would be far more exhausting that just typing the [expletve deleted]words in. (Just eavesdrop in on to the average conversation. Phew!)

        Not everybody has mush for brains but since the name of the game is that technology should make us more productive, I think that direct control is ou
        • I hate to break this to you, but you don't practice some kind of silent dialog with your fingers to get them to write, either. Imagine that you had to concentrate hard on each letter you wanted to type to the machine. With some luck, those could be identified. Getting up to speed would be quite similar to how you get up to speed in any motoric process, and since there would be no need for actual conduction to peripheric nerves or any actual mechanic movement going on, I would imagine that this could be plen
    • "Handwriting: vastly slower than typing, even for crummy typists like me."

      Keyboards may be the fastest, but they only work if you have a flat surface to lay the input device on. For mobile applications, you have two options:

      1.) Thumb board.
      2.) Stylus and handwriting recog OR an OSK

      The thumb board is not a keyboard, but faster than text input. However, it eats up badly needed space.

      The stylus interface is probably the slowest UI for typing/writing, but it also works like a mouse, which is much faste
      • you have two options:
        1.) Thumb board.
        2.) Stylus and handwriting recog OR an OSK


        You have 3 options:

        1. Thumboard.
        2. Stylus and HWR.
        3. Stylus and a learned interface.

        Graffiti and the Pocket PC's Block Recogniser are not handwriting recognition. They're more like stenographer's shorthand, albeit less advanced. They're not as fast as a thumb-board, but they don't require the break between text input and positional input that a stylus or a mouse gives you.

        Unfortunately Palm has abandoned Graffiti and replace
  • Outliner (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sabah Arif (830070)
    I am a Newton user (MP130), and my favorite feature is being able to create ink outlines. No other PDA that I know of includes the functionality out of the box.
  • by OlivierB (709839) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @01:59PM (#12706446)
    PostNuke... as in PostSlashdot!
  • still in use (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Therlin (126989) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @02:01PM (#12706461)
    Have you ever gone to a Disney theme park and been asked to take a survey? The handheld they use to write down your answer is a Newton.

    Apple has a contract to supply Disney with them until 2010. ..... or so have I been told by an Apple higher up.
    • Disney is also connected to the Smalltalk-derived Squeak [squeak.org].

      I used to wonder about a Newton/Squeak combo from Disney--kid game machine, edutainment device, Disneyworld guide, etc. This was like 6 years ago, though.

  • Everybody knows the Newton was really the work of DEC [elook.org], who were the true innovators with their Leibnitz line of handhelds.

    The Leibnitz never caught on, due to the unique marketing approach that was synonymous with Digital.

    :-}

  • by ari_j (90255)
    Mmmm...newtons [nabiscoworld.com]. Or did you mean Caramel Apple [nabiscoworld.com]? I'm confused.
  • about the Newton. Truth is, it was a device far, far ahead of its time. Palm admittedly used it as a model for the first Palm Pilot. Even though Palm simplified the Pilot, eventually, it evolved into a machine that is much like the original Newton, in concept. I'm sure Apple would've made it smaller if technology permitted, but at the time, VHS size was the best they could do. Had they come out with at the same product 10 years later, (smaller form-factor, of course) it would've taken off. Timing is everyth
    • Had they come out with at the same product 10 years later, (smaller form-factor, of course) it would've taken off. Timing is everything.

      Only partly correct. The Newton designers made a fundamental design commitment to true handwriting recognition, and although they did a phenomenal job, they never could get it to work just right. Palm ate their lunch not on form factor, applications, price, or battery life, but on Graffiti. Hawkins simplified the Newton to a few very, very basic things that (a) wor

  • I think the best Newton ever was the education-targeted eMate 300. It was my first "computer", way back in middle school. I really wish Apple would have stuck with it. Even today, nothing compares to the eMate - it's stunningly durable (demos of it regularly featured the presenter climbing a ladder and dropping it on to the floor, snapping back whatever case edges popped out, and turning it on), it's simple - I had no problem using it to type reports and print them on my old DeskJet 550c, and it's powerful,
  • the newtons biggest problem was the time in which it was launched.

    these days pda's are a lot better served especially with the rise in wireless networking.

    to give an example the mdaIII is a pda phone with built in wireless now for my money gprs is expensive but with wireless built in it just takes finding a wireless hotspot and all of a sudden you have cheap calls and full net access

    with skype for pocket pc you can call all over for 2p a minute (more for mobile calls) it will play mp3's streaming media
  • Make an emulator for the newton that runs on XScale, have Apple sell licenses for the "roms". Profit.
  • by SClitheroe (132403) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @04:11PM (#12707664) Homepage
    And I love it. I print rather than write with it, and I find the accuracy is great. I also have Grafitti installed on it, but I hardly ever use it.

    I've used Palms and PocketPC's, but go back to the Newton for it's simple and elegant interface, which makes we actually want to use it, and keep my calendar and contacts up to date.

    Although the HWR gets all the attention whenever someone writes about the Newton, the one aspect I would have loved to see advanced and developed was the Assist button. Tap on it, enter something like "Have lunch with Bob on Tuesday", and it will search your contact list, automatically create a meeting on Tuesday for you.
    • I print rather than write with it, and I find the accuracy is great.

      I found that cursive writing (neatly) increased the accuracy for me, along with making sure I used the suguestions all the time. It really did get better. The problem with mine was that it was stolen. The cops recovered it, but it had been wiped clean (and the protective case was damaged - the stupid jerk removed the metal LCD protection). Too bad, it had the best vehicle expense application I've ever used.

  • by bani (467531) on Thursday June 02, 2005 @04:56PM (#12708139)
    Why the Apple Newton Failed [g4tv.com] - written by Larry Tesler, Newton Development lead for two years.
    • The real, simple, explanation for why the Newton failed was the marketting emphasis on handwriting recognition, as Tesler said in his piece.

      Apple UK's Newton division realised this. One of their favorite standard demos was an app that I wrote for Cannon, an interactive sales guide for colour photocopiers. The key to the app was it didn't use any handwriting; all interaction was just tapping. It really sold on what such machines are good at.

      Tapping on things was really what the Newton and all other well
      • You mean the fact it was overpriced wasn't a factor in its failure? The fact it was too large?

        Palm swooped in with mediocre software by comparison, but their device was cheap and small. And they soundly kicked apple's ass.

        Even if the newton's handwriting recognition were perfect, it was still too large and too expensive.
  • I may have mentioned this in a previous article about the Newton, but it was used to coordinate battlefield information during a Marine Corps war fighting experiment called Hunter-Warrior, which was part of a program called Operation Sea Dragon.

    Taken from This desription: [globalsecurity.org]

    The Hunter Warrior Experiment showed how lightly-armed units can dominate large coastal regions, not by landing on the beaches, but by leaping over them in V-22s, spreading out and operating deep inside enemy territory. They used han

  • If my memory serves me well, it was the Newton team who came up with the name "PDA" to refer to handheld computers.

    I remember thinking at the time that Personal Digital Assistant was one of the worst buzzwords ever, even though the Newton itself was kinda cool. It's funny how the machine faded away, but the acronym stuck.

  • The thing that I remember about the MP was that if you wanted a box, just draw a box. It would make the sides straight. Then write some text. Put the text in the box. Draw another box. Draw a line between them. Now drag the whole thing down the page. Put a title at the top.

    Finally, plug the MP into your HP Laserjet 4M and print it out (without loading up drivers). Try that on your Palm/WinCE device.

  • Ursine Wiki [ursine.ca] has a whole bunch of stuff [ursine.ca] including history, detailed descriptions and reviews of most of the Apple Newton [ursine.ca] line.

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