back to article Apple's first handheld: the Newton MessagePad

Some say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and when you consider the history of the PDA, that statement holds many truths. While the iPhone looks set to take the market by storm, the HTC S620 and Samsung i600 were good takes on the Blackberry, and the Palm Treo range has long been tested and trusted. The Treo's roots …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reminds me of the old Newton joke...

    Q: How many Apple Newtons does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: Foux! There to eat lemons, axe gravy soup.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sweet sweet sweet catatonia

    From what I remember the Newton was John Sculley's big project, when he was in charge of Apple. He had a great vision of a Newton future, and like a lot of technoutopian thinking it was basically correct but years too soon. The report skims over the fact that the Newton's demise coincided with that of Sculley; I imagine Steve Jobs, who replaced Sculley, wasn't too keen on keeping the Newton around. There is room for only one creative visionary at Apple.

    The Newton was also packaged in a clamshell case as the Emate, which was sold to schools so that disadvantaged pupils could have a play laptop. I'm in two minds as to whether a professional-looking Emate, with a more sober design and a keyboard, might have been a better idea than the Newton. It would still have been much cheaper than the cheapest Powerbook. On the other hand it would have been harder to learn to use it than a Powerbook, and non-standard. Perhaps Apple could have sold the Newton off to someone else.

  3. Ian Sargent

    I loved my 2100!

    I loved my 2100 which I bought in 98 and which gave me faultless service until 2001 when I was forced to replace it. God did I miss it and I now wish that I had kept it, if only for personal use!

    For me the handwriting recognition was fine and I would guess that it was easily better than 90% accurate and only had problems when I started to ‘scribble’. I should add that when I do ‘scribble’ even I can’t read it…..

    As was mentioned in the article the only real issue was data transfer which for me was only occasionally a problem but I am sure that it could be solved now, especially with better/faster processors now being available, plus of course better 'interfacing' software.

    I am sure that with today’s technology it wouldn’t be that difficult for Apple to ‘bring it back’ and make it even better – just don’t make it smaller!

    If Apple produced a new one now with a faster processor and maybe colour I would be at the head of the queue and, to be honest, I would even be happy to go without the colour.

  4. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    Not the first

    The first useful PDA was the Amstrad PDA600. Cheaper, simpler, it did less, but much more usably. Input was by a simple printing recognition system, that had much better accuracy than the Newton's cursive recogniser, yet didn't require the user to learn cryptic gestures for each letter.

    The UI was designed to look just like a FiloFax (TM) complete with rings and page corners. You got Notes, Diary, Address book, Calculator.

    There wasn't an OS as such, just 2 Z80's running reams and reams of C code.

    It died because PDA's ceased to be "must have" items, and AMstrad got bored with them.

  5. Steven Gordon-Saker

    What about...

    What about the PSION organiser? I remember this as being a far more useful PDA.

  6. Jim Ned


    Apple's CEO at the time was John Sculley, who had left the fast-track to the top slot at Pepsi to join the tech game. He infamously announced while demo-ing the new Newton gizmo that it would become a 'trillion-dollar' product. Alas, this prediction would have taken around 1/3 of the folks on the planet buying one, so it never quite materialized. And that would have been if it COULD recognize handwriting.

    "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?" (Jobs' sales pitch to Sculley to get him to Apple)

  7. Ben

    Prior forgotten technology

    The author appears to have his Apple-blinkers on. There were numerous PDAs around before the Newton/Messagepad. I'm sure other Register readers can give more examples, but in the UK the most notable was the series developed by Psion, starting with the Psion Organiser in 1984. Look it up on wikipedia, where you'll also find out about Sharp's earlier PDAs. Casio were certainly producing PDA type devices in the 1970's, although they were of course quite primitive.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gawd, how many times...

    ... do I have to read that it failed because of the HWR? The cursive HWR was very decent from NOS 2.0 onwards, the print-recognition even better. Heck, people would not still use the thing if it did not work properly. It does. Newton had to go because Steve had hard enough of a task on hand saving the Mac when he returned to the wreck that Apple was at the time.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "but never with a colour screen"

    IMO colour screens are still not as functional as the B&W screens of 5 years ago. My old PalmV and 6310i were fully visible in bright sunlight which can't be said for either the HTC organiser phone or Nokia 6300 I'm using at the moment. (nor do they have the battery life - i went back to my 6310 for just that reason last weekend).

    Colour might be pretty (and possibly essential for web browsing) but give me a b&w organiser i can use outside anyday.

  10. David Henn

    First Mobile Application

    The Newton was spot on...

    1995 working with 3rd party company developed our first mobile application for

    Field Service Engineers it was the DB's at the time using GSM connectivity... Woaaa

    Only fly in the ointment was the fact I worked for HP, caused a few glares...

    But productivity was the name of the game..!!

  11. Ian Smith

    re: First Mobile Application

    It was definitely ahead of its time and was a great environment to work with. Back then I was a NewtonScript developer and wrote most of that app.

  12. michael branagan

    Newton 2100

    I had two 2100's and loved them. Reluctantly eBay 'em when the Mac went USB. The kids who bought them out west were total thrilled. I loved the 2100's largeness and full sized stylus, easier to use than my Palm Z22 and its accompanied toothpick. I'd buy one again.

  13. Rich Le Cropane

    Still Newting

    I've been using my upgraded MessagePad 2000 daily for 10 years now (it replaced an OMP I picked up in '94). Hopefully, by the time it finally croaks, the iPhone will be more capable and a lot cheaper.

  14. David Henn

    re: First Mobile Application - By Ian Smith

    TBS ??? by any chance

  15. Christopher

    Yes, there were PDAs before Newton, alright . . .


    Yes, there were. I know -- I still have a couple of the ones I had stuffed in a drawer somewhere. I do also have my MP2000 which I use everyday in my business and a brand new 2100 waiting in the wings for the 2000 to die. I'm not sure if you actually used some of these early PDAs by Sharpe and Casio, but the ones I started with and ditched were unbelievably awful. The Psion was closer to acceptable, but in the end it was really a scaled down laptop, much akin to the Windows CE efforts, albeit much better than WinCE.

    The Newton, on the other hand was an integrated device that was created with pen computing in mind at every turn. A real treat to use (as I still do). It's funny to think how those awful early PDA interfaces drove the folks at Apple to come up with something more intuitive -- that is the same drive behind the iPhone. Boom? or Bust? Only time will tell -- meanwhile -- everyday my MP2000 soldiers on!

  16. J


    "those using the MessagePad as a compliment to a PC"

    As in "hi, PC, you're looking great today!", is it? :O)


  17. Jasmine Strong

    Don't forget the eMate

    There was a weird Newton-based machine built that's eerily similar to the OLPC: the Newton eMate. It had a keyboard and a little LCD, ran Newton OS, and was cool.

  18. Douglas Stetner

    Still using my 2100

    And I will continue to use it until someone comes out with a PDA that can match it in usefulness.

  19. Chris Coles

    Successful Innovation requires as many as possible new forms

    Successful innovation needs as many as possible new forms of a device to come to the fore, as often as possible. The Japanese have an inbuilt advantage with innovation, their reluctance to let any single idea or form of a product sit for very long in the manufacturing stage.

    The faster you let new thinking make an input and the smaller your manufacturing run, the better you can meet market perceptions with new variations of the same product.

    We saw the opposite here in the UK with a fixation on trying to get the maximum length of product run for the minimum product development cost. By the time the business can see that the market is fed up with the currect product, it is too late. Some other innovator has stolen your market from right under your nose. Ergo, we lost cameras, pocket calculators, you name it.

    Never try and control your market by any other means than fresh innovation of the product and always test your market by constantly revising the product to suite new perceptions.

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