So, if you’re not into the iPhone it’s going to be a very long and boring week for you as far as Apple news goes. I doubt there will be much to talk about that doesn’t revolve revolve around the upcoming device. In an effort to not spread or start any more FUD about the product…today, I thought I’d take you on a trip back in time…
It was a dark time to be an Apple fan. The year was 1993, and a Jobless Apple stumbled around from one idea to the next, lacking the direction and creative vision that had steered the company in previous years. There was a product that seemed like it could change that, though. It was a revolutionary device that had started its life as a larger format tablet-styled computer, but had been re-envisioned as a smaller companion device (so as not to cannibalize Mac sales). It was the device that coined the term “Personal Digital Assistant”…
It’s name…was Newton.
It was a device that was supposed to change the world…it put the power of computing, faxing, and organizing your life in the palm of your hand. The only problem was that when it was released, it didn’t actually work like they promised. The handwriting recognition of Newton was one of its most touted features, but it had a hard time actually recognizing your handwriting. In the “Getting Started Tips” video below, you can see that Apple was aware of this, and not only spun it as a positive, but also placed the blame directly on the user (at least, that’s the impression I get from this video that shipped with every Newton), telling you to use “common sense” when writing to help Newton understand you…
The handwriting issue is probably what kept the device from ever reaching the level of success it could have. It was an otherwise impressive digital assistant, and extremely ahead of its time. It’s clear when you look at the interface for the Newton that the layout and design of the OS influenced the look of the Palm Pilot and almost every other PDA that followed it. In fact, you can even clearly see it’s influence in the interface on the iPhone itself.
The terrible advertising campaign (which you can see a sample of below) also didn’t help sell the device, in my opinion. This wacky ad campaign seemed to steer the device in a more “fun” direction than I think it was intended. Newton was designed for business users…not kids…and for the most part, this advertising campaign belonged on Nickelodeon more than it did on 60 Minutes.
The Newton limped along from 1993 to 1998 and saw a variety of models released, ranging from the initial release, to the MessagePad series, and finally the more laptop-like eMate.
Like almost all Apple products, the Newton developed a dedicated, albeit small, following, some of which continue to use their Newton’s to this day. You can find sites dedicated to the device online with a simple Google search, and community members ready to tell you why the Newton was, and still is, great.
When it comes down to it, the device was ahead of it’s time. The question is…is that time now? The iPhone bares more than a passing resemblance to the Newton in a variety of ways. From the interface (which is obviously more visually stunning on the iPhone) to the applications, there are some very definite similarities…but…there are as many differences as their are similarities in the devices as well. The iPhone is certainly no Newton 2.0, but I think the success of the iPhone will ultimately depend on how well Apple learned from the mistakes made with the Newton.
In the coming weeks we’ll know for sure.