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Portables (Apple) Businesses Handhelds Apple Hardware

Five Years Later, Newton Still Going Strong 312

CrezzyMan writes "Today is the five year anniversary of Apple's cancellation of the Newton platform. In spite of this, the Newton community has remained stronger than ever: it has even been the subject of academic research. In just the last few days, an IrCOMM stack and a new connection library have been released, on top of OS X syncing and 802.11b support."
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Five Years Later, Newton Still Going Strong

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  • by (1337) God ( 653941 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:49PM (#5398375)
    I know that most of us have Palm Pilots of some sort, but the Newton was really cool especially when you consider that it was invented many, many years ago and then mass-produced fairly efficiently.

    The Palm is great and all, but the Newton was just so innovative for its time. I still have the one I bought several years ago and will give it to my daughter when she gets old enough.

    Join my Slashdot clan []
    • I absolutely agree. I currently use a Palm, but the Newton 120 that I still have in many ways is a much more sophisticated system and I even seem to remember that there are folks running websites from their Newtons.

      The Newton had real possibilities of getting Apple into the business market that they so dearly want to get into by utilizing it as a vertical market device for medical, GIS, warehouse and other markets. If they were smart about it, they would do exactly this in the very near future and use a new Newton like tablet with business markets they could be very strong in.
    • by Alan Partridge ( 516639 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @04:47PM (#5400428) Journal
      I have a Message Pad 2100 and a Sony Clié Sj-30. The Clié is the one that gets used, I'm afraid - though the Newton's hugely more advanced and task focused. It's like a beautiful hi-tech dream killed by a stupid cartoonist and a nervous Steve Jobs - it has probably the most advanced user experience ever developed. There's no point in waiting for Apple to resurrect the Newt, but they should, and they should do it tomorrow.
  • I've still got mine. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:50PM (#5398383)
    To this day, no one has created a PDA device that is as natural to use as the Newton. I still keep mine around for notetaking which I then sync to MS word via a VB Script.
    • by Dr Caleb ( 121505 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:54PM (#5398438) Homepage Journal
      Proud Owner of a Newton 503. It still does my calendar, time accounting and notes to self.

      The only game on it is Lunar Lander, and I've got the LCARS Tricorder on it. Nothing like hitting the "Red Alert" button when the boss walks into a meeting.

      The company gave me an iPAQ, which I like. It has an IBM 1G microdrive that I use for movies while I travel. But it just isn't the same....

    • I lusted after Newtons.
      Then the PalmPilot came out.

      I realized I couldn't fit a brick in my pocket.

      So I got a PalmPilot Personal. Then a V.

      Just last week I upgraded to a Tungsten. It kicks butt.

      That said, I'd still like to have a used Newton to play with... I'm sure half the appeal is the community aspect (which is also part of the reason why I like Macs still...)

      But I can't go partying in NYC with a friggin Newton in my pocket!
      • by TotallyUseless ( 157895 ) <> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:10PM (#5398669) Homepage Journal
        Well, the point of this story is that while you have gone through *3* different palm pilots, there are plenty of people using +5 year old newtons that do pretty much everything your Palm Pilots can. No, maybe you can't go partying with a newton in your pocket (you need bigger pockets) but you could do a lot more partying with all the money you would have saved not buying Palm Pilot after Palm Pilot after Palm Pilot!
        • you could do a lot more partying with all the money you would have saved not buying Palm Pilot after Palm Pilot after Palm Pilot!

          Um, the MessagePad 2000 (upgraded to 2100) I have sitting on my desk should have cost me $1200 + $100 for the upgrade (I went for the deluxe package with the keyboard and case, and had some tasty discounts). I haven't priced out a palm unit lately (no real desire for a palm) but those Zauruses are pricey too.

        • Dude you could buy AT LEAST five palm pilots for what the Newton 2000/2100 would have cost you.

          I managed to con my employer way back when to buy some Newton 120s right when they were released in late 1995. They were $1k a piece. My first Palm (the 1000... bought in early '97) cost $200.

      • I've used palms. However I can't seem to write well on those little screens. Doing text entery one char' at a time is rather limiting. To get around this you need to carry a keyboard (not a thumb board, those too are too slow) with you that makes the total package not much smaller then a Newton.
        • I have one of those keyboards, but i don't need it all the time. Usually I just keep it at work.

          It's pretty cool...some people have docking stations that turn their laptop into a virtual desktop machine. I have a cheap but usable keyboard that turns my palm into a virtual laptop (well, not quite...)

          And this is an old old big keyboard, circa 1998 or 99. The "newer" ones fold up to something roughly the size of a package is still notably smaller than a newton (and it seperates, so you could carry the palm in one pocket and the keybaord in another.)
      • by edsel ( 73916 )
        >> But I can't go partying in NYC with a friggin Newton in my pocket!

        Is that a Newton in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Newton OS was amazingly cool. A truly "virtual" computer... the file system was only accessable as an ISAM. There were no programs, only "Application Objects" that didn't execute.. they were always resident in RAM, but may or may not have had their windows exposed. The UI toolkit was sweet with very handy methods for doing handwriting style form input. The "source" for any program installed on your system was always available from other programs and could be hooked into, modified, etc. on the fly.

      It was a truly unique consumer machine from a technical point of view, very FUN. Its application programmer's hacking paradise.

      Sure it was incredibly impractical, like old school UNIX running on a home-pc vs MS-DOS, but also incredibly cool in the same way.
      • Gotta disagree on it being impractical.

        Is there anyone who *REALLY* takes notes with the Palm/PPC Form Factor? When I whip out my MP2100, everyone in the room looks at the screen size with envy.

        The Palm and iPAQ are great tools for tracking your calendar and contact management. If that's all you need, then a Newton would certainly be overkill.

        If you wanted to replace your planner completely, then a Newton would be for you. The Handwriting Recognition has yet to be surpassed. One more case (see Apple II) of Steve Jobs blowing the market due to his arrogance... They were at least 4 years ahead of EVERYONE.

        They had palm-sized prototypes. I heard they even had a COLOR prototype.... in 1997! Yeah, Steve. No future in the handheld market...

        *sigh* You'd think I'd be less bitter after 5 years. Nope.
        • He may have meant the programming model was impractical, but maybe he meant overall. Either way, I disagree- there are many advantages to the NewtonScript programming system over a C based system like on the Palm OS. A lot easier to program, with good performance. It's amazing how quickly you can churn out a decent Newton app compared to doing it the pain-in-the-assway like Palm wants you to do... Now a days, you can get RAD IDEs for the Palm OS, but the Newton had this ability back in 1993! GUI layout, a full OO language which was very dynamic, an OODB, extensible system... very fun!
  • by extrarice ( 212683 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:53PM (#5398425) Homepage Journal
    ...but as a picture frame!
    The LCD screen died on me (note to self: don't store in backpack, then toss backpack).
    So, I took the guts out, and it makes a really nifty picture frame now (the case nicely displays a 4x6 photo).
  • Maybe... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dave at hostwerks ( 466530 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:54PM (#5398445) Homepage
    Did Newton owners choose wrong or were they simply ahead of the curve?

    Remember, Grafitti was developed by Palm for Newton. Their device did not exist at that time.

    Without Newton, the technology and the marketplace for handhelds would not be what it is today.

    The fact that Newton was only available for five years and has had five more years of life post-Apple is the real story.
    • Remember, Grafitti was developed by Palm for Newton. Their device did not exist at that time.

      I don't know, so I must ask; Which came first, graffiti for PC-GEOS (via the tandy/casio Zoomer Z-PDA 7000) or graffiti for the newton?

      I put the former on a GRiDPad with a version of PC-GEOS and it works great, I just need to figure out how to hide the mouse pointer now. I now have a PDA with graffiti handwriting recognition the size of a sizable schoolbook, with a 20mb IDE disk. All I need now is a new battery pack...

    • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Drakonian ( 518722 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:10PM (#5398670) Homepage
      Without Newton, the technology and the marketplace for handhelds would not be what it is today.

      I disagree. Maybe I'll agree for the technology, but not the marketplace. Apple unfortunately completed missed the boat with regards to what the public wanted in a PDA, even though their offering was very cool.

      Now without Jeff Hawkins, the PDA market would not be what it is today. I'm sure everyone has heard the story about how he carried around a wood block [] in his pocket to get a feel for if it was usable. He'd actually pull it out and pretend scrawl on it at the appropriate time to get a feel for the proper weight and size. That is what the market wanted - a *small*, usable, electronic daytimer.

      • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by blamanj ( 253811 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:33PM (#5398939)
        That [Palm] is what the market wanted - a *small*, usable, electronic daytimer.

        Excuse me, but not ALL of the market wants the same things. That's why there are subcompact cars, sports cars, and SUVs. I used the Palm and the Newton before choosing the MP2000, because I wanted the bigger screen real estate, ethernet option, e-mail, fax, etc. The earlier models were under powered in my opinion, but the MP2K series was (and still is) pretty snappy, performance-wise.

        There's room for both. Palm is nice for addresses and calendar, but it's horrible for note taking. I'd love to have the Newton as thin as a Palm (which could be done with today's technology) but I'm happy with larger height and width.
        • Re:Maybe... (Score:4, Informative)

          by Drakonian ( 518722 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @03:22PM (#5399500) Homepage
          Agreed, but for a hi-tech product to gain mass market acceptance, it must "cross the chasm". The user base for hi-tech products looks somewhat like a bell curve. At the front there is about 2% of people who are innovators - people who like technology for it's own sake, and the maybe 5% of people who are Early Adopters - technological visionaries. I'd guess 90% of all Slashdot readers fit into one of these two categories. However for a product to truly be sucessful in the market, it has to cross the chasm from those early 7% techy people into the huge pragmaist area. (~80% of people who will use technology if it truly benefits them). The Newton, like so many other failed Hi Tech products, never crossed the chasm.

          I'd recommend Geoffry Moore's Crossing the Chasm [] book to read more about marketing hi-tech products to mainstream customers. Here is a rough estimate of the bell curve [] I was referring to.

      • Re:Maybe... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cookiej ( 136023 )
        Important point to remember -- Newton, Inc. was spun off before Jobs came back into power. They had a set of prototypes that would have addressed most of the big issues. The problem was that the Newton was John Scully's baby and Jobs was going to kill it no matter what. Instead of letting Newton, Inc. float on it's own, Jobs pulled it back into Apple and dismantled it under the guise of "retaining high-quality engineers."

        For those who think that the Palm would have been what it was before -- once Newton, Inc. was killed, every bright light (with the exception of Walter Smith and couple others who went other directions) on the Newton team went to work for Palm.

        P.S. Graffitti was a 3rd part app that was a resonable substitute until the Handwriting Recognition was perfected. It was not an Apple product, IIRC.
    • Re:Maybe... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonvmous Coward ( 589068 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:19PM (#5398781)
      "Did Newton owners choose wrong or were they simply ahead of the curve?"

      Niether. Apple had a good machine there but there were prohibiting factors that prevented it from being a bigger success. (Too big for pockets, high price, etc...) I think Palm proved that the Newton was useful, it just needed a little tweaking.

      I'm a little surprised that Apple didn't invent the Palm Pilot before Palm did. Now that PDAs are all over the place, where's Apple's entry?
      • Re:Maybe... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by tuxedobob ( 582913 )

        Actually, there's been some speculation (which is probably only that, speculation) that Apple may re-enter the PDA market at some point. The Mac pundits seem to think it may grow out the iPod at some point.

        Perhaps at the moment, Apple doesn't think they would have anything better to offer. Some think that was the reason for Safari-- that Mac users didn't really like their browsers and/or that Apple could do better (which so far, they have.)

        Personally, I have limited use for a PDA. What I'd prefer to see is an iPod expanded to play more media files, such as movies. If they put in some sort of "QuickTime chip", instead of one that can only decode MP3's, they might have a cool little TV-ish thing. Unfortunately, that'd raise the price even higher, since you wouldn't want a B/W passive matrix for a screen for that.

        • "Personally, I have limited use for a PDA."

          I have a PocketPC I used for several months. It was great for taking down voice notes during my 10 minute walk home. Unfortunately, though, it became a burden to carry that thing around. Because of that, I never used it to store appointments or phone numbers etc. So eventually it just became the "Read AvantGo from the toilet" device.

          However, I did have a nice turn around when I got my Ericsson T-68i Cell Phone. Granted, I'm not going to dictate notes with it, but it is great for storing appointments and phone #'s. Plus, I can synch it with Outlook and Bluetooth. Since I carry my phone with me all the time (it's very tiny, I forget it's in my pocket sometimes) it has truely become a 'Personal Digital Assistant'. It has completely replaced my alarm clock. I can even surf the web with it via my cellular service, something I still can't do today with my PocketPC.

          What I've just said really isn't on-topic per se, but I thought you'd find it interesting that somembody in a similar position has found something to his liking. :)
        • Actually, there's been some speculation (which is probably only that, speculation) that Apple may re-enter the PDA market at some point. The Mac pundits seem to think it may grow out the iPod at some point.

          All the pieces are in place for an Apple handheld revival that theoretically could integrate iPod functionality as well. We have bluetooth for synching purposes, 802.11 for wireless networking to your desktop system and web-access, Inkwell for handwriting recognition, Quicktime for media files (movies on the plane if you could somehow temporarily rip them to volatile memory or something), iTunes for MP3's etc...etc...etc...

          Ideally, what I would like would be something like an iBook lite running a slim OS X, with a VGA out for presentations on the road (Keynote), built in voice or sound recording with speech to text software (already present to a limited extent in OS X) for taking notes in presentations/meetings, built in networking abilities, built in high res screen for reading .pdf's (most scientific journals are publishing in .pdf) and the ability to mark up those .pdf's. iCal, Mail and perhaps iPhoto would be nice as well.

          It does not need removeable media as you simply would synch it with a desktop Mac and a form factor of Newton size would be ideal. (Jeez, some of the tabletPC's I've seen are huge and bulky) And good battery performance is easily possible running for a full day or more as evidenced by iPod battery technology.

    • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by davebaum ( 653977 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:39PM (#5399012)
      I think Apple was definitely ahead of the curve with Newton. It was a groundbreaking product in many ways, and I feel it was also a fantastic piece of engineering. But from a mass market perspective it just couldn't hold on once Palm introduced the Pilot.

      When it was first developed, the Newton's computational power was about on par with typical desktop systems. This translated into higher cost, larger size, and heavier power requirements.

      Palm's insight was to simplify what a PDA needed to do. All of the Palm apps were simpler than their Newton counterparts. Even the low level graphics routines were simpler. By relying on hot-sync, Palm offloaded some requirements (i.e. printing) to a desktop computer. Grafitti required considerably less CPU cycles than Newton's handwriting recognition. etc.

      By building a simpler system, Palm was able to make their PDA smaller, cheaper, and run for a long time on 2 AAA batteries. IMHO, this was the magic forumla that led to PDAs crossing from early adopters to mainstream.

      But I'm skeptical that Palm would have been able to focus their efforts correctly if Newton hadn't already been in the market. It is incredibly difficult to predict what is important and what isn't when creating a new market.

      In short, both products deserve a lot of credit for creating the PDA market that we have today.
    • Re:Maybe... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DdJ ( 10790 )
      Remember, Grafitti was developed by Palm for Newton.
      Well, for Newton and for other PDAs of the day. I own two different versions of Graffiti, besides the one built into my PalmOS handhelds. I've got it on my Newtons, and I've got it on my Magic Cap [] PDAs (Sony PIC-1000 and PIC-2000A). It's nice to be able to switch among three very different PDAs and use Graffiti on all of them.
    • by g4dget ( 579145 )
      Did Newton owners choose wrong or were they simply ahead of the curve?

      Read about the history of pen based computing [] here. Basically, the Newton seems in part an attempt to commecialize aspects of Alan Kay's vision of the Dynabook, and most of the technology had been previously explored, going back to the 1960's.

  • by msheppard ( 150231 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @01:55PM (#5398457) Homepage Journal
    I think the term "has remained stronger than ever" warrents some investigation.

  • by grub ( 11606 )

    It is official; Netcraft now confirms: the Newton is dying

    One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered the Newton community when Slashdot confirmed that the Newton market share has dropped yet again, 5 years after it was discontinued by Apple. Coming on the heels of a recent Netcraft survey which plainly states that the Newton has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. the Apple Newton is collapsing in complete disarray..

    You don't need to be a Kreskin to predict the Newton's future. The hand writing is on the wall: the Newton faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for the Newton because the Newton is dying. Things are looking very bad for the Newton. As many of us are already aware, the Apple Newton continues to lose market share. At Apple the red ink flows like a river of blood.

    The Newton development team is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

    All major surveys show that the Newton has steadily declined in market share. the Newton is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If the Newton is to survive at all it will be among handheld dilettante dabblers and hangers-on. the Newton continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, the Newton is dead.

    Fact: the Newton is dying
  • Anyone else keep on getting Handspring banner ads while viewing this story? ;)
  • Not after that slashdotting!
  • i dont get it. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nailchipper ( 461706 )
    i met a guy who had one of these things, and i just dont get it. a PDA now can do so much more. and laptops are so small. i honestly think its the coolness factor of it being rare and a collectors item.

    what would be great is if apple revives the newton, to go with with their new style/os.
  • by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:02PM (#5398558) Journal
    Since everything else seems slashdotted, try this: The Newton Source []
  • by eyeye ( 653962 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:03PM (#5398575) Homepage Journal
    Its important to remember that barring failure a piece of technology one buys will always be as capable as when it was the latest technology.
    • Not necessarily (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dangermouse ( 2242 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @04:39PM (#5400346) Homepage
      With networked components, this is only true if you maintain the entire network.

      For instance, if you ditch the OS on your PC that allows you to take advantage of certain functions on your handheld, your handheld has effectively lost functionality without itself failing.

      With the continuing growth in the importance of interconnectedness to the devices and systems we use every day, your statement is quickly becoming less generally true.

  • $100 on Ebay... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by $$$$$exyGal ( 638164 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:05PM (#5398591) Homepage Journal
    It looks like they are still selling for like $100 [] on Ebay. Wow! You can get a 1 year-old palm for way cheaper than that.

    --sex []

    • The highest-end newton I'm aware of has a processor slightly faster than a Macintosh IIfx. This is faster than the slower palm devices which feature up to a 33MHz dragonball which is really basedon 68000, not even 68020; the cheap/slow dragonball(z) are pretty craptacular. Also they are larger which is desirable to many. Personally I want something about the size of a clipboard, but I want about the same thickness too, and that doesn't seem too likely.
      • I am not sure where you got this.. the Newton 2000 and 2100 had a 162 MHz StrongARM 110 processor which, I believe, is much more powerfull than a IIfx.
      • Actually... check out the 220 MHz accelerator [] for the Newton 2000/2100.

        New ATA drivers allow the use of ATA-style PCMCIA cards, so you can add 1 Gb of storage if you really want.

        Since there are 2 PCMCIA slots on the 2000/2100 you can slap a network (wired/wireless) in the other socket.

        For as old as they are, Newton's are quite capable devices.
        • With the ATA driver, you can add a helluva lot more than 2 GB to your Newton. I myself have a 2 GB Toshiba PCMCIA drive which I use in my Newton... but you can use up to 20 GB PCMCIA harddrives in the Newton with the ATA driver- the same drive as in the iPods.
      • What are you smoking?

        My 2100 is 160MHz.

        I fed the troll, didn't I?

  • Whats up with that?
  • Not a surprise (Score:5, Informative)

    by gordie ( 139287 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:07PM (#5398635) Homepage
    There is a lot of older/discontinued hardware out there still going strong. Take the old Radio Shack Color Computers are an example, there is even a convention held each year in the Chicago area billed this year as the 12th Annual Last Chicago CoCoFest.
    SJust because a company gives up on a product, does not mean that it is no longer useful!
  • by jbuilder ( 81344 ) <`evadnikufesin' `at' `'> on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:11PM (#5398672)
    I use my Newton MP2100 daily. In fact it's sitting here next to me as I type this. I put Linux docs and HOWTO's relevant to my work on it that I need on it and well as various notes on Java programming. When SJ ended the Newton I tried other PDA's: CE, PalmOS (I stuck with that one for about 4 years) but in the end the *only* PDA I have *ever* used that allowed me to truly store and manage the information I needed for daily life was my Newton. So I switched back.

    Now, Paul Guyot at [] has made an ATA driver for CF cards and instead of having a slot with a 20MB card for storage I have a slot with 128MB of storage divided up as 4 32MB stores.

    Need support? Not a problem. The community is still alive and well. Sign up for the Newtontalk list at [] and ask away. We get PalmOS converts daily signing up.

    Surfing the web and checking email works fine on the Newton. I can even chat with people via IM programs like Jabber and ICQ or on the IRC. In addition to that I get weeks of use out of a set of batteries.

    Now would I *like* for something newer/smaller/faster/prettier to come along? Sure. But so far nothing comes close to managing information for me the way my Newt does.

    And unlike the Simpsons episode's depiction, when I type "Beat up Martin" it digitizes it into "Beat up Martin"... I really was hoping to see "Eat up Martha" but no such luck.. ;)
  • by n9fzx ( 128488 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:11PM (#5398681) Homepage Journal
    The history of the Apple Newton Messagepad is worthy of study by technophiles who think that Good Technology sells itself. Basically, Apple made all of the classical marketing/strategy mistakes that one could make on a single platform, including:

    • Unleashing a new product category before the product itself was ready.
    • Ignoring customer feedback on design issues and pricing.
    • Vague and inexplicit value proposition.
    • Getting nailed by a competitor who listened to customers, built a more portable platform, hit the market target price, and understood the core value proposition of a PDA.
    I was a big fan of the Newton from the Messagepad 120 on -- with the 120 and Newton 2.0, Apple had finally delivered on the promise of the PDA. Unfortunately, after years of fumbling, overpromising and under-delivering, the market had moved on, and simply would not believe anything that Apple had to say -- something I'll dub the Newton Effect. The Messagepad 2000, which was ultimately more capable (thanks to DEC's StrongARM), was also ultimately a step in the opposite direction of what the market was asking for: smaller and cheaper, not bigger and over $1000!

    I stil have my Messagepad 120, and it still comes out of the case every now and then to remind me that bad business decisions can and will kill superior technology.

    • by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:40PM (#5399025)
      Of course, you shouldn't forget that the Newton was actually in the black for the first time since its creation when Steve Jobs killed it. There is a distinct possibility that the Newton could have held down the high-end of the PDA market, particularly with vertical apps, and gradually trickled down to the consumer level.

      I've always suspected that Jobs killed it because it was a John Sculley project. Most everyone in the Newton division bolted for Palm.

      What's even worse was finding out that, within two years, Jobs was offering to acquire Palm, to which they replied, "Thanks, no." Jobs trashed the Newton brand, ran off its engineers, and only realized the error of his ways about the time that Microsoft was gearing up to enter the market. Too late.
      • I'm sorry for Apple that it can't be a player in the PDA market, but the decision Jobs made at the time was a good business move. As several people have pointed out, the Newton was good technology by the time it was killed, but Apple (as a company) wasn't in the position to support multiple platforms right then.

        The hard reality is that the company had to get back to the core of what it did best: make and sell better Macs. If Apple had been in the financial shape it is NOW, I doubt Newton would have died, but at the time, it was a wise business move when the future of the company was honestly in doubt. Business and marketing literature are filled with examples of companies that have tried to split their resources when they were weak and ended up going out of business simply because they couldn't afford to do anything right.

        As for your suspicion that Jobs resented Newton because it was a Sculley project, there could be some validity to that. However, his trademarked Reality Distortion Field could have convinced people that it had been his all along if he had wanted it that way. :-)

        Seriously, as much as I hate Apple losing that place in the market, it helped with survival in the dark days when the adjective "beleaguered" really WAS justified in referring to the company.

    • I think that you're forgetting the context of the time period that the Newton was introduced.

      Unleashing a new product category before the product itself was ready.

      No different than AT&T, Sony, and a slew of other manufacturers that came out with PDA's around the same time frame. At the time the PDA was the "hot" technology and everyone put there's out before any of them were ready.

      Ignoring customer feedback on design issues and pricing.

      Well as far as pricing, you price the thing as low as possible but high enough to meet your financial goals. Don't you think that if it were feasable for Apple to sell the thing for $200, they would have loved to? It wasen't. It's was very expensive, very leading edge technology. However, it was not significantly more expensive than the other PDA's available at the time.

      Vague and inexplicit value proposition.

      Again, the entire PDA market at the time faced this issue. The arrival of the PALM made the value propsition come into focus, unfortunately, almost EVERY other manufacturer of a PDA at the time had missed.

      Getting nailed by a competitor who listened to customers, built a more portable platform, hit the market target price, and understood the core value proposition of a PDA.

      No they were a competitor that came to the show late enough to learn from everyone elses mistakes. They benefitted greatly from being behind the curve. Everyone was crowding the high end so they wisely decided to go for the low end, and it worked.

      Unfortunately, after years of fumbling, overpromising and under-delivering, the market had moved on, and simply would not believe anything that Apple had to say -- something I'll dub the Newton Effect.

      Again, this is true for almost every PDA manufacturer of the time. That's why you don't see the names EO, General Magic, MS Windows for Pen Computing, et al any more. At the time, the PDA was a technology in search of a market (still is in many ways), hardly anything specific to Apple (though they did have a lot more hype than most).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I still use my Newton, and it's as capable now as it was five years ago when I bought it. Well, ok -- the battery life on my rechargable dropped, but I was able to refurbish it.

    My point is I bought the Newton to use as a handheld computer for taking written and audio notes, and for reading books on flash memory. The fact that it's still better at (all three of) those tasks than a Palm or WinCE device is beside the point.

    I still use a Performa, too... I bought it to use as a Word Processor. Guess what? It's still a great word processor. Just because there is new hardware out there that fits the bill doesn't mean the non-hardware-junkies out there are going to buy it.

    Ooh! Ford just release a new car! It still goes the same places on the same roads, but it's SHINY and NEW. I'll stick to my existing car until it stops doing what I bought it for, and THEN buy a new one.
  • I used my Newton 120 for note-taking, scheduling, the usual phone-list type stuff that I currently use my Palm for. I also used Grafitti on my Newton almost exclusively since I couldn't get the automatic recognition to work. But as soon as I got a non-trivial amount of data in it, especially in the phone list, things really slowed down. So off to the bookshelf it went; $1000 down the drain. Back to the Franklin planner.

    Imagine my surprise when I found out that Palms used Grafitti. But I still waited a little while longer (> 1 year) to make sure that Palms were going to be around before springing for a Palm IIIx (4MB!! whoo hoo!).

    Was the Newton before its time? Hardware wasn't up to it, but I think that people were ready for it.

  • by IIRCAFAIKIANAL ( 572786 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:38PM (#5399005) Journal
    In spite of this, the Newton community has remained stronger than ever: it has even been the subject of academic research.
    ...but is fanatical devotion to a product that attracts research something to be proud of? :)
  • <PLUG>

    A friend of mine has designed and manufactured a backlight/touchsceen upgrade for the MP2x00 - see [] for more info.

  • by frdmfghtr ( 603968 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:52PM (#5399178)

    From Pen Computing Magazine #22, June 1998

    Why Did Apple Kill Newton?

    ©Copyright 1998 David MacNeill

    Early Friday morning, February 27, 1998, Apple Computer made official what the Newton cognoscenti had strongly suspected for six months: the Newton handheld computing platform was dead.

    The rather terse press release gave the basic facts: Apple will cease all Newton OS hardware and software development, no more products will be made after the existing stock is depleted, and Apple will continue to provide support to users. Brief mention was made of development of a new low-cost Mac OS-based mobile device in the future, but no details were offered. But the most galling omission was the lack of an answer to the question on the minds of hundreds of thousands of shocked, angry Newton owners: Why?

    Before I attempt to answer this question, let's take a quick tour of the mercurial five-year career of Newton. This will serve to prepare you for the several explanations we will be considering.

    A brief history of Newton
    During its turbulent five-year life, Newton technology was close to death several times, yet always managed to survive. Department heads came and went, but the essential concept of the personal digital assistant (PDA) was too compelling to die easily: A small, inexpensive, pen-based computing device that would accompany you everywhere, and that would learn enough about you to make informed assumptions about how to help you keep track of the myriad little bits of information we all must carry. It would be simple enough for anyone to use, a true computer for the rest of us.

    I was fortunate to participate in the Newton beta test program and to co-author and deliver the training materials used to launch the product. The moment I saw that beta unit my life changed, and I wasn't the only one.
    I still remember the excitement of holding a pre-release Newton NotePad (as it was labeled then) in my hands for the first time, said Clinton Logan, ace developer for LandWare. Truly unique products like that don't come along very often.

    For those of us who bought into this vision, it seemed like the future was arriving ahead of schedule. Like the buyers of the original 128K Macintosh, we gladly paid the high price of admission just to participate in this achingly cool dream that had taken physical form. We loved it and made it work for us in ways unanticipated by its creators, which is the true measure of great computer design.

    What is Newton ?
    Newton had an identity crisis from the very beginning. Former Apple CEO and Newton champion John Sculley first showed the prototype to the press in Chicago on May 1992, where he described not only the device but also their platform strategy. A central theme in Apple's advertising and promotional materials at the time repeatedly used the phrase What is Newton? Some have suggested that Apple never actually answered this question to anyone's satisfaction.

    Consider the name change. The product was originally called the Newton NotePad to suggest its personal assistive features, but that was later changed to MessagePad to emphasize the product's communications capabilities.

    We had always intended for Newton to be a platform, not just a product, said former Newton Systems Group chief Gaston Bastiens, now CEO of Lernout & Hauspie, an eminent speech recognition company. Unfortunately, all the press took away with them was the handwriting recognition aspect, which was over-emphasized. The whole thrust of Newton was to be a personal communicator as well as a personal assistant. From a conceptual point of view, John was absolutely right. The infrastructure for two-way wireless at the time was not there; we all knew it was a couple of years away, but it was always part of our platform strategy.

    John Sculley generally gets both the credit and the blame for the original Newton concept, but others who worked on the project say that Sculley simply understood and adopted the vision the designers had already created. However, these same people will admit that Sculley did foresee the current convergence of computers, communications, and content.

    I have never seen a story more misrepresented by the media than what was really intended as the vision for a totally licensable platform for mobile wireless devices in the age of digital convergence, Sculley told me recently. They had an opportunity to create a major new industry, but nothing ever happened. Newton was intended to be a platform for wireless communications and handwriting was a very, very small part of the product.

    The original MessagePad
    Launched at Macworld Boston in August 1993, the first 5,000 MessagePads sold out within hours. Users went nuts over them, gladly paying the US$800. Apple ran training sessions at the show and handed out buttons that said I saw it, I did it, I want it. Newton stole the show. The MessagePad was marvelously solid and well-built--no surprise, since Sharp built them for Apple in Japan. (Sharp also released a superb Newton-based device called the ExpertPad, but very few of them were actually sold in the US.)

    As wonderfully innovative as the original MessagePad was, it was far from perfect. Many felt that it was a beta product, not ready for prime time, and that it was released ahead of schedule because Sculley was determined to ship before he was ousted from the company. That rumor is untrue, according to Bastiens: There is no truth to that at all. John was in complete control at the time. I actually delayed the MessagePad's release from January '93 to August '93.

    The most pernicious flaw in the MessagePad was a nasty memory fragmentation bug that severely hindered the functioning of the early version of ParaGraph's handwriting recognition engine, which was in the ROM of the MessagePad. Unless the user was very careful to reset the unit regularly, recognition would suffer.

    In retrospect, said Pen Computing's editor-in-chief Conrad Blickenstorfer, Apple's decision to include a dictionary-based recognizer with access to only 10,000 words was a recipe for disappointment. If they had allowed character-based recognition to work alongside the word-based model, things would have been much different.

    The Note Pad application, where users spent most of their time, was notorious for hogging all available system memory. This would cause problems such as forcing the user to reset the unit, though doing this would not lose any data. The Intelligent Assistant feature could be pretty dumb at times, making some odd assumptions in response to user commands. The Names and Dates applications were Spartan even by 1993 standards, lacking essential fields and varieties of appointments that every user needed. Physically, the original MessagePad was too wide for people with small hands to hold comfortably, and the unit was just a little too big to fit into any but the largest pocket. Unless you were a kangaroo, you carried your MessagePad in a briefcase or handbag. It wasn't really all that handy. The four AAA batteries proved insufficient for the MessagePad and the unit also lacked a cover for the glass display, so broken screens were quite common in those early days.

    But none of this really mattered. We loved our Newtons with all their flaws, because there was nothing else out there even remotely comparable. Newton was unique.

    Newton had the most advanced operating system of any personal computing device. Oriented around the task, not the application, Newton users could work easily and naturally. The friendly, responsive user interface shielded you completely from its sophisticated inner workings. It was built around a persistent object database that simplified file management more than any OS ever had. Though no one ever tried it commercially, the Newton OS was CPU-independent, so programs would theoretically not have to be recompiled for devices using different microprocessors. Developers sang the praises of the Apple-developed Newton Tool Kit, with its richly powerful NewtonScript language, though many grumbled about the steep price Apple charged for it.

    The MessagePad 100 and 110
    In the aftermath of Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau's merciless week of lampooning the MessagePad's handwriting recognition, Apple steadfastly continued to improve the Newton line. (Trudeau later recanted his criticism and became a big fan when Apple sent him a MessagePad 2000.) In February of 1994, a new machine arrived with a completely re-designed case, a much more stable version of the operating system, and an expanded word list for the handwriting recognizer. The MessagePad 110, manufactured for Apple by Inventec, had an integrated screen cover, a larger display, more memory, and used long-lasting AA batteries instead of the wimpy AAA cells of its predecessor. Many felt that this was the machine Apple should have shipped first, and I believe it could have happened that way. I personally saw a fully operational MP110 in use by an Apple handwriting recognition engineer prior to the official launch of the original MessagePad, so the 110 was obviously in an advanced stage of development.

    Apple continued to sell the original MessagePad with the new ROM of the 110 and called it the MP100. Existing MessagePad users could send in their units to be upgraded with the new ROMS.

    Commercial applications, which had been sparse, began to arrive in quantity, joining the many shareware and freeware apps we were already enjoying. Based on the wealth of new developers, Newton's future seemed assured.

    The fabled Newton LC
    One of the most heartbreaking mistakes Apple made was not building a small shirt pocket-size device that would sell for under US$400. This form factor, combined with low pricing, has proven to be wildly successful for 3Com/Palm Computing and their best-selling PalmPilot platform. Original Newton Group leader Steve Capps told me some of his team originally wanted to build a Pilot-size Newton but the technology to do so wasn't there in 1991. He feels that Newton would have benefitted from getting smaller instead of larger, as it ultimately did with the MP2000/2100 and eMate 300 machines.

    We should have believed in our own thinking, Capps observed. Palm didn't make the same mistakes and they deserve their success. John Sculley also confirmed that such products were always in the plan. (Several years later, Apple repeated the mistake when a palm-size US$450 StrongARM-based Newton was killed in favor of the eMate.)

    I recently stumbled on an interesting piece of supporting evidence. While rummaging through some Newton accessories at a used Apple store, I found an Apple-branded leather case in which the sewn-in identity strip read MessagePad 110 / LC.

    There absolutely were plans for an LC product to be released in 1995, said Bastiens. We had a complete design, developed with LSI Logic and ARM, for a 'one-chip-Newton.' It was a miniaturized MessagePad, like a PalmPilot.

    The Newton LC would have changed everything. We were too nice to Apple, said Blickenstorfer, too willing to put up with their veil of secrecy, too willing to take 'no comment' for an answer. Perhaps we could have convinced them the LC was definitely the way to go. Apple could have shown us the LC a year before Palm asked us what we thought of the Pilot prototype.

    Newton 2.0 and the MessagePad 120/130
    At roughly one-year intervals, Apple released evolutionary improvements to the Newton line. The MessagePad 120 had a much better display and twice the memory of the 110. In late 1995, Apple shipped an improved MP120 with a powerful new version of the operating system. Newton OS 2.0, introduced at a huge party at the 1995 Fall Comdex show in Las Vegas, was a tremendous leap forward in functionality over what was originally named Newton Intelligence. Byte Magazine gave it an award for best operating system. All the internal applications were significantly enhanced and better woven together for a more intuitive user experience. The groundwork was laid for new OS enhancements such as a TCP/IP stack for Internet communications. It looked as though Newton would finally make good on its promise as a communications device. Again, Apple offered MP120 owners to upgrade their units to Newton OS 2.0 functionality, and droves of users took them up on the offer.

    Following the release of 2.0, Apple gave us the MessagePad 130, which featured a very bright backlit display and another half meg of system memory for faster, more reliable performance. The backlight alone was worth the price.

    The brilliant MessagePad 2000
    While many users thought the MessagePad 130 was the ultimate Newton device, they were soon to be blown away by something so amazing that they would eat their words. Released in early 1997, the MessagePad 2000 was built around the fire-breathing new StrongARM processor from Digital Equipment and ARM. Running at 162MHz, the StrongARM made the Newton OS positively fly. Combined with a generous 320x240 pixel backlit grayscale display, an additional PC Card slot, an optional external keyboard, and digital voice recording, the MP2000 was considered by many to be the most impressive handheld computer ever made--albeit with an impressively high price of US$1100 to match.

    Holding all this new technology together was the new 2.1 rev of the OS. It came with several new applications. An integrated application suite called NewtWorks contained a powerful internally-developed word processor and an Excel-compatible spreadsheet called QuickFigure Pro developed by PelicanWare. We also received an e-mail client called EnRoute i-net, developed by NetStrategy, and the NetHopper web browser developed by AllPen.

    How did it all work? To quote from my own review in the December 1996 issue of Pen Computing, Everything you ever liked about any Newton device is here, and much more. I can honestly say this is the first Newton device that could replace my notebook computer as a traveling companion. And it did.

    Meet the eMate
    As paradigm-shatteringly cool as the MessagePad 2000 was, Apple simultaneously introduced a product that raised our eyebrows even higher. Billed as the education computer of the future, the eMate 300 was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. With the processing power of the MP130, the display and ROM of the MP2000, and a translucent green clamshell-style case that looked like something from the Bat Cave, this was a completely new class of computing device. Liked by virtually everyone from kids to golden agers, the eMate had an appeal that transcended traditional boundaries. Easy and fun to use, eMates were reasonably priced at under US$800--low enough so that almost every student in the US could have their very own computer. Schools could buy them at enticing quantity discounts, and soon they appeared in classrooms across the country. Educational software developers shipped dozens of titles for the machine.

    But the eMate wasn't just for kids. Journalists began snapping up eMates as the perfect portable writing tool. Even Steve Jobs liked the eMate. Apple reportedly began developing a bMate version for business people, featuring a better screen and a StrongARM processor. Anticipation was high for these new keyboard-equipped Newtons.

    MessagePad 2100: The last Newton
    Late in 1997, Apple shipped an incrementally improved version of the MP2000. The MessagePad 2100 had four times the system memory of the MP2000, a new 2.0 version of the Newton Internet Enabler, faster infrared, and support for Ethernet LAN connections. MP2000 users could upgrade for US$99, a real bargain. The added memory made Internet communications rock-solid and gave all your applications an overall speed boost. Though it never shipped, Dragon Systems showed us a working demo of a speech recognition engine developed in cooperation with Apple specifically for the MP2100. Though Apple never said as much, many Newton insiders believe the MP2100 was created specifically to be a platform for speech recognition.

    So far, this brief history has ignored the business goings-on at Apple. However, there is one event that literally changed the face of the MessagePad 2100, and that is the aborted spin-off of the Newton Systems Group into Newton Inc, a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Computer, in late 1997. During the time the MP2100 was being readied for market, the Apple logo-shaped molding on the face of the 2000 was changed to a circular indentation that was intended to hold the Newton Inc logo. By the time the units arrived from Sharp (the Japanese manufacturer of the original MessagePads and the MP2000/2100), Steve Jobs had reabsorbed Newton back into Apple proper. The final MP2100 cases have an Apple logo painted in the slightly wrong-looking round spot, while the Newton logo and the words Newton Technology are silk-screened in the upper left face of the unit. This obvious patch job is a constant reminder of what Newton might have been.

    Why kill Newton ?
    Theories about why Steve Jobs killed Newton run from the banal to the bizarre. I believe that the truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between the extremes.

    It never made any money
    The simplest and perhaps the most plausible explanation for Newton's untimely death is that it was simply unprofitable for Apple to continue supporting three operating systems: the Mac OS, Rhapsody, and the Newton OS. Some sources say that Apple sunk a billion dollars into Newton and recouped only about one-fourth of that amount in sales. That's bad business any way you slice it. Inventing the future is an extremely expensive proposition, and Apple Computer is in no position to continue to invest in a money pit like Newton while it fights to protect the Macintosh from Windows-based computers.

    I prefer to think it was a cold business decision, said Clinton Logan. The Newton was at a crossroads. A palm-size device was desperately needed to stay in the PalmPilot/Palm PC product space, a color 'bMate' was needed to combat the upcoming larger flavors of Windows CE. Newton's desktop connectivity needed to be fixed, public awareness and opinion raised, etc. Apple is a struggling company and it simply didn't have the resources to make all that happen and still remain focused on its core business: the Mac OS.

    Gaston Bastiens agrees: The only reason I can see why Steve would kill Newton is to cut costs enough to make the company profitable. He also must have seen that with Microsoft's release of Windows CE that Apple had no fighting chance to revive the Newton. They missed their opportunity, big time. We were first to market, had our infrastructure and technologies in place, and there was enough support from my players in Japan to support it.

    It is clear that Newton was a losing financial proposition for most of its five-year history. It is also clear that Apple management did not understand how far ahead of the game they were, and that they gave up too soon to reap the rewards a healthy Newton platform could have provided.

    Steve Jobs hates John Sculley
    This one is easy to understand if you know anything about human nature. Sculley saw Newton as his personal contribution to the world, just as Jobs sees the Mac as his. Sculley ousted Jobs in a nasty boardroom coup, then got himself booted out for poor stock performance. Apple languished under the leadership of a pair of ho-hum corporate suits, then Jobs rode back in to save the day as interim CEO. And what's the first thing that happens when there is a new boss? He fires all his former rivals' executive flunkies, then snuffs out the pretenders' pet projects. Jobs must read Machiavelli; he clearly believes that it is better to be feared than to be loved.

    Apple makes computers, and computers have keyboards
    This supposedly is a quote from Steve Jobs during a Newton Inc re-absorption meeting attended by an acquaintance. According to this theory, Jobs has no use for handheld, keyboard-less devices like the MessagePad--just as he once had no use for hard drives on the Macintosh. He just doesn't seem to understand the fact that millions of people don't work sitting at a desk in an office building. They walk around, and have no laps on which to put laptops. Jobs doesn't believe in handwriting recognition, observed Steve Capps, Newton's principal designer.

    The only thing wrong with this theory is that the keyboard-equipped eMate 300 was selling in respectable numbers to schools when the axe fell. So why kill a hot product unless you have an even hotter replacement for it, and in the process enrage and alienate the entire educational market? Education is one of Apple's few remaining strongholds.

    Intel wouldn't commit to the StrongARM
    There were reports that Apple was unable to get a satisfactory commitment from Intel to justify another production run of MessagePad 2100s. There was also good reason to believe that Jobs didn't want to owe anything to Intel because of his commitment to the PowerPC architecture, which I believe to be true. His new consumer mobile devices will contain PowerPC chips.

    The StrongARM processor is a combination of the low power RISC chip architecture from British ARM and Digital Equipment Corporation's workstation-class Alpha RISC processor technology. When Intel bought out DEC's chip fabs, the StrongARM suddenly became an Intel product. Initially, some analysts suspected that Intel would keep StrongARM production low or kill it off altogether so handheld computer makers would be forced to consider Intel's own mobile processor designs. Some analysts say Intel is committed to the StrongARM architecture and that production yields will remain high, while others say Intel can't decide what to do with the chip. According to a recent editorial by Jim Turley in Microprocessor Report, Intel needs the StrongARM to be a player in the handheld space but can't come to terms with selling a product they didn't invent. There are production issues as well.

    To build StrongARM today, wrote Turley, Intel has to maintain the Hudson fab just as Digital left it. Revising the design for Intel's fabs would take months and could do violence to some of StrongARM's most charming characteristics. Later in the article Turley says Nobody wants to invest in a microprocessor without a future, and StrongARM's future is looking iffy.

    Michelle Abraham of market research firm In-Stat offers a more optimistic view. As far as StrongARM is concerned, I believe Intel will continue to market the processor and move ahead with plans for the next generation StrongARM processors since they have signed an agreement with ARM.

    Newton would compete with Mac NCs
    This one holds up under close examination. Apple has been planning to ship low-cost network computers--the fabled Mac NC--which are essentially stripped down Macs with no local storage media that rely on a Rhapsody server computer instead for everything except local processing power. Code-named Columbus, this is Jobs' next big thing, and will probably ship in two versions. The Fast Ethernet-equipped education and business model will boot from a server, while a model aimed at the home market will have a hard drive, an optional DVD drive, and a built-in 56K modem. I believe that what we will see is an eMate shell with a PowerPC processor and a nine-inch color LCD display. If I'm right, then it is understandable why they nuked the Newton OS-based eMate: people would get confused between such similar looking products. As NewtNews editor Steve Holden said, It would look stupid for Apple to have two thin clients. One of them had to go.

    Bill Gates bought the education market from Jobs for $500 million
    Bear with me here; this one reads like an X-Files episode. Back when Newton OS 2.0 was released, Apple threw a party during Comdex Las Vegas. We all had a great time, then Bill Gates showed up to cheer us on. That night, I'm told, Gates saw the MessagePad 2000 prototype and flipped out over it. It is conjectured that this was when he saw the true possibilities of what was to become Windows CE. In the following year Gates saw the eMate prototype and immediately appreciated its potential to revolutionize education. Gates' wife Melinda then had a baby girl, and Gates decided he wantted eMate-like devices running Windows CE in the hands of every student in America, if not the world.

    Soon, Apple Computer is on the rocks. Jobs and Gates--who have been portrayed in the media as bitter rivals but are actually good friends--conceived a scheme to save Apple. Microsoft poured a huge pile of cash into Apple, built a killer new Macintosh version of Microsoft Office 98 along with other hot new products for the Mac, and agreed to combine several key technologies between the two companies rather than compete technologically.

    In exchange for their very survival, Jobs agreed to (a) sell $150 million in non-voting Apple stock to Microsoft; (b) settle out of court all pending Apple litigation against Microsoft for an undisclosed sum; (c) make Microsoft Internet Explorer the default web browser on all new Macs; and (d) give Gates complete access to key Apple technologies.

    That's the public part that everybody knows. I have spoken to former Newton developers who claim this scheme goes much farther. The undisclosed amount paid by Microsoft, they say, combined with the $150 million, actually came to half a billion dollars. Among the stipulations to which Jobs allegedly agreed was that he would prematurely snuff Newton, thereby deliberately angering the education market so they would adopt Windows CE-based eMate-like devices.

    And what was Gates' motivation? He was supposedly ticked off at Compaq for making a soon to be announced eMate clone that runs Windows 95 instead of Windows CE. This unnamed device is reportedly targeted directly at schools. Compaq is one of the few companies big enough to do whatever it bloody well wants and say to hell with Microsoft. It is widely believed that Gates wants the world to run on Windows NT and Windows CE, while the bloated and increasingly unsustainable Windows 95 fades away. To ensure that events in the education market happen on his terms instead of Compaq's, Gates supposedly bought the market for handheld school computers from Apple.

    I don't believe this is the way it went down, but it is interesting to speculate about what Steve Jobs did agree to in these meetings.

    Why not sell it, license it, or spin it off?
    Over the last year, several companies have approached Apple about buying Newton technology outright. Apple maintained that Newton was not for sale, but privately the company was entertaining offers. Since they didn't seem to respond to any of them, this was probably just a delaying tactic.

    While heading up the Newton Developer Association initiative to gather enough vertical market companies to pressure Apple into selling the Newton technology, I came across information about other companies making bids for Newton before it was killed, said former Newton developer E. Karsten Smelser of Borealis Communications. All of the bids were in the eight-figure range. Apparently, Steve turned them all down flat. It was Steve's unwillingness to negotiate that became my biggest problem in gathering support amongst these companies. I was told by many that they had already tried and were not going to waste anymore time on it.

    There was also some talk of Apple licensing Newton technology to Planet Computing, one of the companies that recently offered to buy Newton. Smelser continues, I spoke with the other current licensees of Newton technology (the ones that aren't bankrupt) and they told me that they would never consider making anything based on that license since Steve/Apple can cancel it at any time, e.g. Mac clones.

    Why not let Newton Inc spin off? Jobs' predecessor at Apple, Gil Amelio, instigated the spin-off plan. But when Jobs came back he decided to put a stop to it just as the Newton people were getting their new office furnished and their phones installed.

    Apple legal would not allow the division to be sold/merged because of possible stockholder suits that would follow if in fact the technology did take off and become successful, says Jon Covington of PDA Inc/World Market Strategies. There would be no suits if they killed it.

    It has been widely reported that when Jobs took the helm he wanted to raid the Newton division for the two or three Newton eMate designers as part of his NC plan. As I said, Jobs liked the eMate and wanted it, or something like it, for Apple. But that doesn't mean that an independent Newton Inc shouldn't have a go at lucrative vertical markets with the MessagePad 2100. The market was there, waiting to be exploited.

    Apple had nothing really to lose, Steve Holden recently told me. I find it very strange that Newton Inc was a complete and separate company with $20 million in the bank and a year to live before it would go under if things failed, yet Steve Jobs brought Newton back, said it was strategic, and then killed it. Even General Magic is going after verticals with Magic Cap 3.0. Apple could have gone after vertical markets even if they abandoned the consumer market.

    Developers take the brunt
    Though Newton owners certainly have good cause to be angry with Apple, developers have been hit the hardest by the untimely death of the Newton platform. Many hard-working companies lost their reason for existing overnight, and have suffered substantial financial losses as a result. Though less visible than commercial software companies, we know of quite a few Newton-specific development efforts involving years of work on vertical market solutions that will never ship due to a lack of hardware.

    Hundreds of businesses have been hurt by Apple's decision to kill the Newton, says Newton consultant Josh Weisbuch. Companies such as Transport Data were well into the development of a ruggedized handheld for the emergency medical and law enforcement industries. Renaissance Digital was working with Children's Hospital here in Boston to create a completely Newton-based otolaryngology department.

    Many developers rode the Newton is dead rumor roller coaster throughout 1997 and 1998, and ended up losing tons of money spent on damage control when their big customers got spooked. Many Newton evangelists reluctantly recommended that Apple remove its logo from Newton devices to make them more palatable to corporations. Apple never understood the critical importance of vertical markets in creating new markets and still can't justify investing in creating them, says John Covington. It's one of the reasons I left Apple.

    Salvaging the best of Newton
    I think it is most likely that Jobs didn't want any competitors for his new mobile devices. Rather than risk cannibalizing Apple sales with a not-invented-by-Jobs Newton product from a subsidiary, he decided to raid Newton for any salvageable technologies that could be ported to his new machines. Newton's peerless handwriting recognition, the data soup architecture, and the Intelligent Assistant are all excellent candidates for the new machines.

    Even though the platform is gone, I think it is safe to say that Mac users will benefit from lessons Apple learned during the Newton experience, developer Cliff Joyce told me. Most notably, the constraints imposed by a pen-based machine with very limited screen real estate resulted in some refreshing, interesting, powerful, and smart interface ideas.

    Opportunity squandered
    The general feeling among those who worked at Apple or who watched closely is that Newton represents a textbook case of mismanagement and opportunity squandered, as Jim Floyd of Microsoft so aptly put it.

    Steve Jobs set back the state of handwriting recognition two years by killing Newton, said Conrad Blickenstorfer. He shelved the best HWR technology on the planet, and canned the most compelling device ever made to deliver it. It is a giant leap backwards.

    The Newton could have been a multi-billion dollar success had Sculley and I stayed, Gaston Bastiens told me. After Sculley left, Spindler had no commitment to Newton at all and he basically killed it. People blame Jobs for this, but it was really Spindler. Apple had a unique opportunity because we had everything in place to make the Newton a worldwide standard for a wireless intelligent communications device that could do everything.

    Gil Amelio's recent book seems to support this assessment. Spindler was the first to suggest that the Newton group should be sold off or axed. Amelio wanted to keep Newton alive because he thought it would eventually be profitable, but Jobs eventually overruled him.

    A matter of trust
    Jobs wants to make a huge, 1984-magnitude splash with his new mobile machines, so you can't blame him for limiting the number of similar products if he can. Like it or not, he's the boss, so the fate of any product which bears an Apple logo is in his hands. We will just have to trust him to do the right thing.

    Those of us who invested in the Newton dream have had a rude awakening. We can take solace in the awareness that we paved the way for a new class of smarter, faster, smaller, and less expensive devices that will be enjoyed by many more people than Newton ever was. In the course of researching and writing this article, I made my peace with this. It's time to move on .

    -David MacNeill is executive editor of Pen Computing Magazine. Newton Notes(TM) has been in continuous publication since the release of the Newton in 1993.

  • I started with a Newton MP100, upgraded to a 120, upgraded again to a 130. The 100 is framed on my wall (it's a beautiful machine). The 120 was handed down to my then-girlfriend. (I bought all of these used; I'm not rich.)

    I sold the 130 about three years ago and bought a Visor Deluxe. My feeling then was that Palms sure as hell weren't as good as Newtons, but given the smaller size, they were good enough at the things I wanted to do.

    A year ago, a bunch of MP2100's went up for sale on eBay at ridiculously low prices; my wife bought me one for my birthday. I played with it for a couple days and immediately shelved my Visor. The 2100 had so much more speed and power, not to mention storage, that the elegance of the system didn't merely compare favorably to the more simplistic Palm, it totally destroyed it. Since I had to carry two devices anyway -- PDA and cell phone -- I didn't mind so much if the PDA was larger, as long as it was much, much better. The 130 wasn't enough better to justify the size; the 2100 was, and then some.

    Over the past year, I've added an 802.11 card and ethernet, synced the Newton with my OS X box from twenty miles away via TCP/IP, and generally been extremely blown away by the inventiveness and support of the Newton community.

    Now, I'm in the process of switching back to Palm -- someone put SprintPCS visorphone modules up on eBay, and I got one for $7. It's not as good a phone as my old Samsung, but it's a good enough phone. It's not as good a PDA as the Newton 2100 by a long shot, but it's a good enough PDA. And the fact that I can now carry one device rather than two clinches the deal.

    But I'll be carrying the 2100 when I travel; its large screen (with excellent backlighting), speed, and network capabilities make it a perfectly viable substitute for a laptop when I go on trips; the Visor doesn't come close to that.

    I wish Newton, Inc. had been left to stand or fall on its own, rather than being spun back into Apple. A Newton OS device the size of a Palm, or even a bit bigger, combined with a mobile phone, would be a dream come true.
  • Why Newton still? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theCat ( 36907 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @02:57PM (#5399244) Journal
    I have a Newton 2100. Use it all the time though the backlight fried out recently. Let me tell you something about technology that maybe you haven't thought about for a while.

    Nothing important has happened in the computer technology arena, other than the adoption of the Internet by the casual consumer, since 1984 when Apple introduced the world to the "graphic user interface" (and PnP networking) in a huge way. You think I'm wrong? Then let's make a list of all the "new" stuff people get a stiffy over:

    • Fast processors.
    • Better monitors.
    • A dozen incarnations of MS Office.
    • Graphics acceleration and more bits per pixel.
    • Bigger hard drives.
    • Denser memory chips.
    • Consumer Un*x (Linux).
    Just more and faster of the stuff that we had from the beginning. Anyone who wants to argue that any of the above is somehow "new" probably was in diapers 20 years ago. OK, cooling technology in consumer machines is new. Didn't have that on the desktop in 1984; only monster mainframes had built-in air conditioning. I don't see this being progress, however. LCDs are new (even though I had one on my Apple IIc, I kid you not). OK then, consumer Internet at the desktop and LCDs are new.

    Tending now to the topic, if someone wants to use technology from even 20 years ago to do things that you can do today on "better" (but not new) technology, then I say good for them. They can probably avoid a lot of the current hassles (pending DRM, odious EULA, virus-o-the-week, constant hardware upgrades, constant cost) that those on the bleeding edge of the faux-new have to contend with.

    As I said, I use a Newton. Nobody has improved on what the Newton did at the time it was cancelled. This is because 1) nobody other than Apple and maybe IBM actually improves anything because that involves risk and delayed profits, and 2) nobody could improve on it if they tried, including Apple and IBM. There just was no room to do so. It was and is just about perfect. If it has fallen behind the times then what of it; that is what software development is for. You stop developing, it falls behind. Windows still sports DOS at the core; does anyone use DOS anymore? Other than you I mean? Of course not because DOS kept on growing and eventually add a really nice command shell called Windows. Is Windows new? Hardly. Is DOS new? Certainly not. What is new this year from Microsoft, anything? Nothing other than the licensing scheme-o-the-week.

    The Newton itself was new in concept, a keyboard-less information organizer, and like many new things it was ahead of its time. Apple itself will tell you the Newton's time still has not come. And when it does, it will probably look more like a phone because a phone is what people understand.

    And I still say that the only thing that is really new in 20 years is the Internet to the home. I've seen a lot of technology come and go, and even now I still am shocked and amazed at what is made possible by the Internet:

    15 years ago I would be tapping out this message on my Mac SE into my private Hermes BBS, which visitors would connect to via a pair of new 2400 baud modems. Cost me a fortune to run it, and I reached maybe 100 users total in several years.

    Gol darnit, now that is progress!

    Now that I'm all jazzed again maybe I'll contact that guy I got email from a while back who was selling replacement backlights for the Newton, that way I can turn the lights down and still jot notes about tomorrow's tasks and watch GoGo! dance naughty. Some things are still beautiful even after all the years.
    • Several things:
      1. You can buy a replacement backlight - someone made a batch of them. They look good. Get one.
      2. I actually went digging last weekend for my Newt and found some cool stuff: an mp3 player (MADPlayer), an application to let it easily play 56k streams over the internet (LaunchPLS), and the WaveLan driver. Now I can listen, wirelessly, to internet radio. Pretty cool.
      3. They marketed it wrong, and didn't come out with a 2000-based eMate. That was an ultra-ultralight laptop, just with a different OS. The Newt wasn't just a PDA - it was a computer.

      My favorite story is when I went on a 2-week trip to install software. The first day, my laptop stopped connecting to our network. But, since I had some software installed back at the office (the Notes connector and Newton Press), I was able to:
      • Send and get my Lotus Notes email
      • receive and print Word documents, including the updated training manual
      • fill out my expense report
      • download Slashdot every morning before I awoke.

      Not bad at all, eh. I wound up using the laptop as a CD player and base to place my Newt's case on while I typed (gotta love the external keyboard). Simply brilliant. The only changes I wish they'd made:
      • produced some more interconnect gadgets. Someone's made the Line-in/Line-out.
      • membrane keyboard for the case. The computer was obviously build with a in-cover keyboard in mind, but no-one ever built it.

      But, an utterly brilliant machine. It looks like I'll need to get the 2008 patch (date rollover fix) for it, since nothing else is there yet.
    • You probably have the link [], but I suspect others might find it useful.
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @03:08PM (#5399354) Homepage Journal
    I have had used a Newton since the original Messagepad and now use a 2100. I also use a Palm V. I like both, and see that each has a place.

    That said, the Newton is an awesome machine. The problem, for me at least, was not price, form factor, or any hardware issue. The only problem was that, out of the box, it did not synch with other software. That, I believe was the stupidest mistake Apple has ever made. It turned a truly great machine into something that was as pain to use. Yes it would synch, after a fashion, but it was never acceptable. When I needed PDA for business, and extreme portability was necessary, I had to go with the Palm V.

    The Palm was primitive in comparison to the 2100 it replaced. Small screen, data entry through a child's script, no ethernet connection, small memory, no simple modem. The list goes on. The Palm was functional but not elegant beyond the data synch. When the palm broke, I went back to the 2100. My data, unfortunately, is once again fragmented, but the Newton is powerful enough to my primary agenda.

    The synch situation is getting better. I can see using the newton for the foreseeable future. It does everything I need. I can write and edit significant pieces using it, something that I could never to on a palm or other PDAs I have tried. One thing I like about Apple is that the technology does not tend to become obsolete as quickly as others.

    • Maybe there was software you needed it to sync with but it didn't, but the Newton, out of the box syncs with the Palm Desktop (used to be a Claris PIM app). You can get cheap or free sync utilities to sync it with Lotus Notes, Outlook, among others.
  • by SideshowBob ( 82333 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @03:25PM (#5399531)
    From the MacWorld where Newton was introduced until Apple killed it, the company I was working for was developing verical market and commercial Newton software.

    Apple really missed the boat by trying to force the Newton into the consumer market when it was clearly failing, while at the same time completely missing the fact that the vertical market was taking off. Of course nowadays the vertical market is mostly served by special purpose devices.

    The Newton APIs and the NewtonScript programming language were just unbelievably cool. What Java wishes it was. But Apple refused to allow third parties access to a C compiler or a standard way to load and run natively compiled code, which really hurt performance critical routines.

    The OO storage system was very cool too. All and all the Newton was almost *too* revolutionary.
    • Maybe when the Newton first came out you couldn't do C on the Newton... but you have been able to for years. Apple put out a MPW extension/setup that lets you do C/C++ development for the Newton. However, you can't write entire apps in C/C++, the GUI still laid out in NewtonScript, but you can defiinately compile to native ARM code. There is a slick disk image on for getting into C++ Newton development. There is also an assembler for the Newton which runs on the Newton itself, if that is your thing.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @03:30PM (#5399576) Homepage
    right here [] Bought it in 1972 and it does everything I need, everything since then has just been 'more and more' of the same thing. Pfft.
  • What we're observing is the same effect that happens with any "dead" system. The OS/2 community is still very active, with plenty of downloadable [] software [], Amiga still has a large following, and I know one guy who uses an old Apple 2GS for fansubbing anime. Even in ham radio community, people use old C64's to control VHF repeaters. And believe it or not, despite my rant in my journal, the BBS community (IE, fidonet []), while a shadow of its former self, still actually runs.

    And if you want to get on with PDA's, I used a Casio SF-M10 for something like 8 years before I finally buckled and got my wife and I a couple of Visor Deluxes. While the newton was good...well, I didn't like it. (Sorry, Newton fans.) Then again, I was one of the last few people to get a GUI on my computer at home.

    So what's the point? Systems don't die, they don't even get archived. They go underground and people continue ongoing support for them.

  • by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @04:14PM (#5400076)
    There is a software environment that is rather similar to Newton: Squeak (an open source re-implementation of Smalltalk) on a PocketPC or Zaurus. And that's no coincidence: Alan Kay, who developed both and is responsible for much of the early ideas in this area, was both at Xerox and at Apple. Squeak even comes with its own version of Graffiti.

    Now, Squeak does not have a lot of good handheld applications. But if people are going to invest so much effort in a platform, why not invest it in making something like Squeak really great? Squeak run on lots of hardware, so it isn't tied to a piece of hardware that won't last forever.

    Here [] is more info on Squeak, here [] is more info on Squean and pen input, and here [] is info on Squeak running on PocketPC.

  • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @04:44PM (#5400396) Homepage
    Why is this company able, time and time again, to make products that create a buzz, build insanely loyal customer bases, sell for top dollar, and innovate, when most companies create dull, me-too type crap?
  • by Collin ( 41088 ) on Thursday February 27, 2003 @06:05PM (#5401249) Homepage
    I got the Newton 2000 right when it first came out. I did the research and compared it to everything else that was out there, including Palm, and decided it was the best tool. And it was, but after using it for a while, my take on why it wasn't well accepted was that while it was great within itself, in terms of the user interface, the applications, the handwriting recognition, etc, its main problem was that it didn't fit into people's paradigms of how they organized data and applications, and didn't fit into the other systems that they had to use, like enterprise calendaring applications, corporate email systems, etc. If you were the lone ranger out there, then it would be good. But try hooking up with Exchange server or Outlook calendar? Sorry.

    Another feature/problem was the object oriented nature of the applications. One of the best things about NewtonOS was how you could extend the built in applications organically by downloading and installing a small extension object. For example, I remember a cool one that added linking between people in your address book. It added the feature right into the app, just like it was a built-in feature. Much better than the Palm, where if you want to improve on an app, you have to replace the whole thing with a completely different one. But the problem with this was that after a while you had a bunch of these add-ons installed, and couldn't tell what was built-in and what wasn't. Let's say something went wrong and you wanted to restore the system from scratch. Suddenly all these little features would be missing and you had no idea what program they came from. And since the syncing didn't work too well even for the built-in apps, it definitely didn't work for the add-ons, so mostly you were left without a backup for all the add-on data.

    The other thing was the data soup concept. Again, it was one of the Newton's best features, in that other apps could access all the data available to make integration a reality. But since all the data was "in there somewhere" and not really conventionally separated like Palm's databases, it was hard to know what was backed up, synced or whatever. I'm sure this was part of the reason why generalized syncing software was hard to achieve for Apple.

    I'm sure somebody will try to rebutt these arguments with a technical analysis of how you could do these things, but suffice it to say that it wasn't clear to me how to sort these things out and I'm a EE with hw and sw background. For sure, the average user wouldn't take the time to figure this all out.

    Anyhow, besides the marketing and strategy blunders, there are some lessons to learn about making sure that revolutionary technology also has the capability to fit into existing technology and paradigms in order for it to succeed.

What ever you want is going to cost a little more than it is worth. -- The Second Law Of Thermodynamics