Why Apple’s Newton flopped (will history repeat itself?) – Video

Speaker 1: All the while it’s just four double A’s. Who’s got some double A’s here . 25 years ago this week, Apple put an end to the Newton. This is the first gadget to be called a personal digital assistant. It was an early portable work device. Portable is an interesting word. It’s quite big. It is a predecessor of the iPhone. Some say it was ahead of its time, some just call it a failure. This week, Mac Rumors wrote about how it’s 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 at its role in computer history and I wanted to make a video about it, to see what I could learn from this relic at the office. And Seeq could still do everything. When the Newton launched in 1993, it was an entirely 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 at the Newton, as Apple is expected to launch again this year [00:01:00] in an entirely new product category with a mixed reality headset. As we go down memory lane, there’s one more thing we need to think about. Has Apple learned lessons from what went wrong launching something brand new or will history repeat itself? I’m Bridget Carey, and this is one more thing. The Newton is about the size of an iPad mini. It’s designed as something you can carry in your pocket to get work done. It must be a very large bag. It’s a handheld computer with a stylist. [00:01:30] It just hangs out here, pops right out. It’s designed for notes and contacts and calendars and messaging and you could even send a fax. Speaker 2: Yo, you need to fax Speaker 1: Machine. The Newton had a great function. Handwriting, recognition, scribble a word and see it converted into text. But that killer feature may have been what actually killed him, as the Newton was castigated for being evil. When translating handwriting. The Dunes Bury comic made fun of it and [00:02:00] it was even a joke about the Simpsons. Speaker 2: Pedro, make a memo about your Newton Beat up Martin. Speaker 1: The handwriting function would have been improved in later versions, but it seems the Newton can’t shake its reputation for rough edges. And was it even worth the price? It went on sale in 1993 for $900. Can you imagine dropping that kind of money to take digital notes and [00:02:30] messaging if you adjust for inflation, that’s over $1,800 today for some perspective, the Newton came out in a different era. Recall that Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. There was a power struggle with the board of directors and clashes with the CEO, John Scully. Development of the Newton began two years after jobs were cut and the first units shipped in 1993. Now there was no term for what kind of product this was. Apple [00:03:00] coined the term personal digital assistant or PDA. It’s a term we now use to describe things like the Palm Pilot. Speaker 1: The message block has gone through a few iterations over the years. In fact, improving the appearance of the message block 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 hardware models. Some are not made by Apple. And Apple had an educational spin-off product from Newton, the Ate. I have this model [00:03:30] here’s the Message Pad 2100, and we even have the original box that came in. It’s a November 1997 review unit. Now 1997, which means this was the last version of the message pad. Therefore the best version of the message block. And I like to see how far I can go with that. Let’s see if we can get it to work and turn it on that it’s 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. Okay. I’ve never used anything like it. PD was just for me. stable. This is pretty good. I like the feel of it. There is a program here called Handwriting Instructor. The screen is a little harder to read than I expected. Feel a little old. Okay, 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, when this came out. Now we just use boy dictation. It’s Siri. Okay, so practice. Let’s see, Speaker 3: . Speaker 1: Ah, hit one. Hello World Z Z. Okay, so if you don’t have the patience to fix it, there is too [00:05:00] an ink version. Okay. Oh okay. Just made it fun. Same as my h How do you delete something? You just scribble it up to remove it. There is a bit of a learning curve here. Let’s see what other apps we can find here. We have a calculator. It’s Monica Tapping. This does nothing. What ? Actually it says [00:05:30] what does that mean? Oh, this was another world. Oh, Net Hopper. It has a cute frog. Shall we go online? Net Hopper 3.20. I’d better call the support number, which is very big and bold. The easiest thing to say is that the battery is dead here. This little, this little man stands out. Hey, let me turn this off first. So, oh [00:06:00] all the while it’s just four double A’s. Are you serious? Who’s got some double A’s here? . Okay, we found new batteries. Here we go. Speaker 1: Faller Double haze is simply necessary. It’s crazy. So what’s funny is I went through the Getting Started guide and nowhere does it say anything about another app or how to use an app as [00:06:30] Cards. I saw nothing. Um, so there’s a learning curve here. Switch the back landing on and off when it is on. Slide the power switch down and hold it for two seconds. It, oh, I just learned how to turn it on. I could see better. Oh, it’s like a bit of a green tint from backlighting. If you want to 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 join it. Just like showing what it has. It’s not that. Speaker 1: This is mainly math. Calculate help. No easy App Store here. OK, back to business. So the year this final model came out was an interesting one for the company. Jobs was back at Apple in early 1997. And it didn’t take him long to get rid of this thing. Bee [00:07:30] upon his return in May, Apple spun off Newton into its own wholly owned subsidiary. Towards the end of ’97 things weren’t looking good for Newton cnet came out in December with a story about how the development team was in turmoil, and just two months later, February ’98, Apple announces it’s scrapping the Newton and ending development ends . Instead, the company focuses on the colorful iMac that year. It is documented that Jobs was not a fan [00:08:00] from Newton. It was the CEO’s project. 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, maybe two ambitious for the time, making it easy to scrap. Perhaps we should thank the Newton for what we love about the iPhone today. It took a lot of innovation and experimentation to get computers to this size, but I worry that Apple faces similar challenges with the rumors [00:08:30] mixed reality headset that we would see later this year. Nothing is official, but Apple’s headset is said to cost three grand. That’s double the cost for which Meta sells its Quest Pro headset. And if there are problems like the Newton had with handwriting, will this headset be berated and rejected for not being useful for the high cost? VR and AR are currently grappling with consumer demand. Speaker 1: Basically people are asking what the point is if [00:09:00] not for gaming? The latest reports suggest that Apple could unveil its headset at WW dc Developer’s Conference, which would imply that this product is a work in progress that needs good developers to make good programs for it. But will it have a great feature to stand out from the crowd of other VR headsets? I don’t really see people being impressed with the pixel rendering quality. Even if it’s top-notch, a great feature should be Apple showing it can do something no one else can [00:09:30] can do. Perhaps Apple is once again trying to stand out in a new way of controlling a device. Just like the Newton, you know, had his little stylist with handwriting. That was something new 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? First of all, thank you for joining me on this little history tour. I’ve never used PDAs and obviously we’ve come a long way in 25 years. If you’ve used the Newton or other PDAs, please jump [00:10:00] in the comments. I want to hear about your memories with it. And as you look forward to fresh new stuff from Apple, do you think we’ll ever see Apple make such a big innovation leap like this? Thanks again for watching.

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