The Newton: Failure?

By Deane Barker on January 12, 2005

Top Ten PDA Failures: I guess I take exception to the Apple Newton being on this list. Yes, it failed, but it was the failure that got everyone thinking about what was possible. In that sense, it was like the Tucker of PDAs.

Perhaps one of the most ambitious tech projects in recent times, Apple spent hundreds of millions of dollars on devices that were at first ridiculed, then ignored. The Newton was disparaged because of its inaccurate handwriting recognition, which was fixed in later versions, and it was never able to live down its reputation.

I still remember sitting on the back steps of a classroom at Camp Pendleton, CA where I was on my two weeks active duty requirement at the time. This would have been summer of 1994. Some guy had a Newton and everyone was crowded around him to see what it did. I watched in amazement as he scribbled over some text and it disappeared in a little puff of “smoke.” I was blown away.

Sadly, I also remember the Doonesbury strip that made fun of the handwriting recognition. I found an old scan of the seminal panel from his strip here. “Egg Freckles”?

Incidentally, I also stumbled across the CNet article from 1998 announcing the death of Newton.

Ah, memories. Via OSNews.



  1. I went from my newton to a string of Pocket PC’s. First the compaq aero’s, then an @migo, then some ipaqs. Never came even close.

    I recently went and got a treo 650 & I am loving it! Stills, video, mp3’s, audible books, streaming shoutcast and it syncs with both my Mac & windoze.

    There just is something so natural to the hand writting UI. Sure it’s slow compared to a keyboard, but the intellegent interface of the newton is par none. Not even the tablets have something so integrated as “lunch tuesday with Mary” syncing with the contacts to put Mary on the calendar on tuesday between 11:30 & 1.

  2. Yeah, I still have my eMate (remember that one) and a nonworking 120. It’s the integration of the notepad and calendar that still blows me way, the intuitiveness of the OS. It’s still ahead of most PDA’s. You might have more functionality on newer ones, but I think for it’s core functions, the newton OS still rocks. That said, I’m not sure I’d trade my sidekick II for my eMate (which needs a new battery unfortunately).

  3. Sigh, the Newton.

    I just sold my last one on eBay – my beloved 2100 MessagePad.

    I already have seller’s remorse – I really really loved that thing. The #1 reason I ditched it was the interop (or lack thereof) with my PC. But it was definitely the coolest gadget I ever owned – outside of my iPod.

    The current crop of PocketPCs w/ 2003 are pretty decent. And that’s coming from a long time MessagePad/Palm user. I now use an iPag 4155 and really dig it – fast, slick and wired along with a killer form factor.

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