The Apple Time Warp

First and only Newton Developers’ ConferenceCleaning out my Big Drawer of Geeky T-Shirts (the new one that came out of my recent Google visit just refused to fit), I ran across my original Newton Developers’ Conference t-shirt. I’m pretty sure there was only the one conference, and yes, I was there. As the shirt says:

A smart step for Newton.
A giant leap in technology.

And a long time ago.

I think that if Apple pulls off the iPhone/iPod Touch third-party apps the way they might (and I know that’s an “if”, not a given), they’ll do what they tried to do 15 years ago with the Newton – make a PDA that’s really mainstream. And, no,
I don’t think that exists right now. I see a lot of people with some kind of mobile device, but as far as I can tell, they’re primarily checking email, messages and websites. The majority of mobile users aren’t using most of the features, capacity and power of their devices.

What’s different? Quite a bit, including how much better technology is now than 15 years ago, and that the market’s in a very different state. Michael Mace wrote, several weeks ago: that

An elegant business model paired with mediocre technology beats an elegant technology paired with a mediocre business model.

and I think that the difference between the way Newton and iPhone hit the streets is a great illustration of that.

Apple’s learned a lot. I say: good for them. Many companies don’t. Here’s one opinion of the mistakes Apple made with Newton, and the critical difference between what they did then and what they do now.

Now if they could only make the iPhone commercials as good as the old Newton ones (those are 3 separate links) were.

5 thoughts on “The Apple Time Warp

  1. Ellen Post author

    Was anyone else who’s reading this there? I can’t believe I haven’t met someone in the last 11 years who was at that conference. Maybe Vidal Graupera, or Ken Landau? If you read this and were there, please add a comment!

    Maybe I should wear the shirt to the next Handango Summit.

  2. J. Wagner

    I was a proud owner of 2 different Newtons. I bought the MP120 when I was college and upgraded to the MP 2000 a year or so later. That MP2K was eventually replaced with a Palm V due to better support for the corporate environment. But, I still miss a few things about that old Newton. It was a landmark system and has had more influence than people realize, IMHO. I can’t help but wonder how the product would have been received if it was the 2k series that came out first.

  3. Michael

    Well, I really hope Apple do well and I wish you good luck with your iPhone-software. It would be so nice to see some innovation in that market-segment.
    Oh, and it would be nice to win your comment of the month-contest ;)

  4. Kevin White

    Apple has a funny way with things. Well.. Steve Jobs has a funny way with things.

    Take Steve Jobs and cubes. He was booted out of Apple and created a new company to make a computer shaped like a cube. That didn’t go so well. He joined Apple again, and ended up making another computer that was shaped like a cube. That still didn’t work. Finally, they made the Mac Mini, which is kind of like half a cube, and that actually DID work.

    When he joined Apple again, he whacked the Newton, apparently because it was the pet project of the previous CEO. But now we have the iPhone/iPod Touch, which is a slightly better version of the Newton + some of apple’s early experiments with wireless stuff.

    Nevermind we had “no video on the ipod” -> “Yay ipods that play video” :)

    All of these things were kind of ahead of their time and didn’t make it, but fast forward to the future and suddenly, they are right in time and they *do* make it.

    However, I think that if the iPhone wasn’t a phone and an iPod, it wouldn’t have been a smash hit. People love talking on the phone, they love music, and Apple has figured out how to market this stuff. If we had a Newton *right now*, with iPhone-like capabilities.. (minus the phone parts?) I don’t think it would be nearly the smash hit that the iPhone is.

  5. Frank McPherson

    Newton had several failings, but one that particularly bothered me (I bought the first MessagePads in 1993) was the lack of integration with desktop PCs. Newton was really designed for cloud computing before there was an Internet infrastructure to support it. If Newton was just coming out today with all the backed services like Exchange, Google, etc… it would be sooo much better.

    And Newton’s HWR was really pretty darn good towards the end.

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