Why Apple’s Newton Flopped (Will History Repeat Itself?) – Video


Speaker 1: All this time it’s just four double A’s. Who’s got some double A’s here <laugh>. 25 years ago this week, apple put an end to the Newton. This is the first gadget to be referred to as a personal digital assistant. It was an early portable work device. Portable being an interesting word. It’s kind of big. It’s an ancestor to the iPhone. Some say it was ahead of its time, some just call it a failure. This week, Mac Rumors wrote about how it has been 25 years since Apple canceled the Newton. [00:00:30] And when I found out we had one in the CNET office, I had to have a little fun looking back on its role in computer history and I wanted to do a video on it, seeing what I could learn from this relic in the office. And Seeq could still do anything. When the Newton launched in 1993, this was a whole new product category for Apple.

Speaker 1: It was a totally innovative achievement, a handheld computer, and yet it flopped. It’s an interesting time to look back on the Newton because Apple this year is expected to once again launch [00:01:00] into a whole new product category with a mixed reality headset. As we go down memory lane, there’s one more thing we should be thinking about. Has Apple learned its lessons from what went wrong with launching something brand new or will history repeat itself? I’m Bridget Carey, and this is one more thing. The Newton is about size of an iPad mini. It was designed as something you can carry in your pocket to get work done. It’s gotta be a very big pocket though. It’s a handheld computer with a stylist. [00:01:30] It’s just hanging out over here, pops right out. It was designed for notes and contacts and calendars and messaging and you could even send a fax.

Speaker 2: Yo, you gotta fax

Speaker 1: Machine. The Newton had a killer feature. Handwriting, recognition, scribble a word and see converted into text. But that killer feature may have been what actually killed it because the Newton was lampooned for being bad. At translating handwriting. The Dunes Bury comic Strip made fun of it and [00:02:00] it was even a joke on the Simpsons.

Speaker 2: Pedro, take a memo on your Newton Beat up Martin.

Speaker 1: The handwriting feature was said to be improved in later versions, but it seems the Newton could not shake the reputation of having rough edges. And was it even worth the price? It went on sale for $900 in 1993. Can you imagine dropping that kind of cash to do digital notes and [00:02:30] messaging if you adjust to inflation, that’s more than $1,800 today for some perspective, the Newton came out during a different era. Remember that Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. There was a power struggle with the board of directors and clashes with the ceo, John Scully. The Newton began development two years after jobs was gone and the first units shipped in 1993. Now, there was not a term for what kind of product this was. Apple [00:03:00] coined the term personal digital assistant or pda. It’s a term that we throw around now to describe things like the Palm Pilot.

Speaker 1: The message pad went through a few iterations over the years. In fact, improving the look of the message pad was Johnny Ives first design project. Newton was also the name of the operating system. You could find the Newton Os on a few different models of hardware. Some were not made by Apple. And Apple had a Newton educational spinoff product called the Ate. This model I have [00:03:30] here is the Message Pad 2100, and we even have the original box that came in. It’s a review unit dated November, 1997. Now 1997, meaning this was the last version of the message pad. Therefore the best version of the message pad. And I like to see how far I can go with it. Let’s see if we can make it work and turn on it is battery powered, but I just think it’s so old it needs to be plugged in. Let’s see what happens. [00:04:00] Oh wow, it’s horizontal. Okay. All right. I have never used something like this before. PD just were a thing for me. Sty. This is pretty good. I like the feel of it. There is a program on here called Handwriting Instructor. The screen is a little harder to read than I expected. Feeling kind of old. All right, let’s see. Uh, tutorial, uh, how to Write on Your Newton device. [00:04:30] Tap anywhere on the screen. Sure, let’s try this.

Speaker 1: Handwriting was a big deal, um, back when this came out. Now we just use boys dictation. It’s Siri. Okay, so practice. Let’s see,

Speaker 3: <laugh>.

Speaker 1: Ah, strike one. Hello, world Z Z. Okay, so if you don’t have um, the patience to fix it, it, there’s also [00:05:00] an ink version. Okay. Oh, okay. Just kind of made it nice. Same as my h How do you delete something? You just scribble it out to delete it. There’s a little bit of a learning curve here. Let’s see what other apps we can find here. We got a calculator clock. It’s Monica Tapping. This does nothing. What <laugh>? Actually it says [00:05:30] what does that mean? Oh, this was another world. Oh, net Hopper. It has a cute frog. Are we going on the internet? Net Hopper 3.20. I better call the support phone number, which is really big and bold. The easiest thing to say, battery battery’s down here. This little, this little guy pops out. Hey, let me turn this off first. So, oh, [00:06:00] all this time it’s just four double A’s. Are you serious? Who’s got some double A’s here? <laugh>. All right, we found some new batteries. Here we go.

Speaker 1: It just takes Faller Double haze. It’s crazy. So what’s funny is I have gone through the Getting Started Guide and nowhere in here does it say about any other app or how to use an app like [00:06:30] Maps. I saw nothing. Um, so there’s a learning curve here. Turn the back landing on and off when it’s on. Slide down and hold the power switch for two seconds. It, oh, I just learned how to turn it on. I could see it better. Oh, it’s like a little bit of a green hue of backlighting. If you wanna send a message to someone else who also has a Newton, there’s a little way to beam it to someone else. You know? Now we just use FaceTime, texting. [00:07:00] This is the early stuff. This is his story. Just coming with it. Just like showing like what it has. It’s not that.

Speaker 1: This is mostly math. Calculating Help. No Easy App Store here. Alright, back to business. So the year that this final model came out, it was an interesting year for the company. Jobs was back at Apple right at the start of 1997. And it didn’t take long for him to get rid of this thing. Upon [00:07:30] his return in May, apple spun off Newton into its own wholly owned subsidiary company. Toward the end of 97, things were not looking good for Newton cnet came out with a story in December about how the development team was in turmoil, and just two months later, February of 98, apple announces it is scrapping the Newton and Discontinues development. Instead, that year, the company puts its focus on the colorful iMac. It’s been documented that Jobs was not a fan [00:08:00] of Newton. It was a project of the ceo. He didn’t like it, had a stylist, which he was against.

Speaker 1: And maybe it was just something that had a lot of baggage with high prices, limited features, and a bad reputation with handwriting bugs, perhaps two ambitious for its time, making it an easy thing to cut. We may have to be thanking the Newton for what we like today about the iPhone. It took a lot of innovation and experimentation to get computing down to this size, but I do worry that Apple may be facing some similar challenges with the rumored [00:08:30] mixed reality headset that we could be seen later this year. Nothing is official, but Apple’s headset is reported to cost three grand. That’s double the cost of what Meta sells its Quest Pro headset for. And if there’s any hiccups like the Newton had with handwriting, will this headset get lampooned and dismissed for not being useful for the high cost? VR and AR have struggle right now with consumer demand.

Speaker 1: Essentially, people are asking what is the point if [00:09:00] not for gaming? The latest reports suggest that Apple may unveil its headset at the WW d c Developer’s conference, which would imply that this product is a work in progress that needs good developers to create good programs for it. But will it have a killer feature to stand out among the crowd of other VR headsets? I don’t really see people being wowed by pixel display quality. Even if it is top notch, a killer feature would have to be Apple showing that it could do something no one else [00:09:30] can do. Maybe Apple will once again try to stand out in how a device is controlled in a new way. Much like how the Newton, you know, had its little stylist with handwriting. That was a novel thing back then. But will people give Apple time to perfect the headset with a version two, or will it be dismissed as something too expensive and not useful enough? Just at the start, thanks for coming on this little history journey with me. I never used PDAs, and clearly we have come a long way in 25 years. If you did use the Newton or other PDAs, please do jump [00:10:00] into the comments. I wanna hear about your memories with it. And if you are looking ahead to fresh new stuff from Apple, do you think we’re ever gonna see Apple take such a big innovation leap like this? Again, thanks for watching.



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