What is the secret story behind the 30th anniversary of Apple's overly innovative PDA 'Newton'?


Grant Hutchinson

The Mobile Information Terminal (PDA), which was released by Apple in 1992 but was discontinued in just five years, is the Newton . Ars Technica, an IT news site, looks back on Apple's Newton, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on May 29, 2022.

Remembering Apple's Newton, 30 years on | Ars Technica

Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple in 1976, pulled out marketing guru John Sculley from Pepsico by persuading him to 'continue to sell sugar water for the rest of his life or change the world?' , Welcomed to the president of Apple. However, the relationship between Jobs and Scully deteriorated sharply when Jobs misunderstood the demand for Macintosh and made a big deficit. Jobs was robbed of all his jobs and was virtually banished from Apple on May 31, 1985.

Scully, who led Apple without Jobs, closed the deficit by selling the Macintosh II as a starting point, but thought there was no future without a visionary like Jobs. ..

Around the same time, Alan Kay, the father of personal computers and an Apple fellow, visited Scully's room and said, 'I don't have the next idea anymore.' So Scully came up with a 'new type of computing device.'

Below is the movie 'Knowledge Navigator' that summarizes the image of 'a new type of computing device' that Scully thought about. When you open the thin plate folded in half, a color LCD appears, and you can manage schedules with a virtual assistant, make camera calls with others, manage files as it is by touch operation, etc., which can be realized with modern iPads and iPhones. You can see that it has the function that it has.

Apple Knowledge Navigator Video (1987)-YouTube

This concept movie was so innovative at that time that some people in the company ridiculed it as 'too unrealistic' and 'it can't be used.'

Meanwhile, Apple engineer Steve Sakoman said after the launch of the Macintosh II, instead of a desktop or laptop PC, Scully's concept was 'a foldable tablet device with handwriting input.' He said he wanted to develop. Therefore, Newton's development project started with Sakoman at the center.

Sakoman worked with AT & T to design a low-power CPU for the C Language Reduction Instruction Set Processor (CRISP), which is called the Hobbit and was developed for installation in Newton, but it's not very performant. The problem was that there were many bugs on the top and it was expensive. In order to operate Newton, it is necessary to install three Hobbits, and if that happens, the price of the terminal will be at least $ 6000 (about 1 million yen at the rate at that time), so the installation of Hobbit was postponed. rice field.

Disappointed by the deadlock in Newton's development, Sakoman left Apple in 1990 to work on the founding of Be , the developer of BeOS . Two Hobbits designed as AT & T are installed in the early prototype of BeBox , which is a BeOS-equipped PC.

After Sakoman leaves, the Newton project will be restarted under Apple's chief scientist, Larry Tesler. During this time, Apple came into contact with Acorn Computers in the United Kingdom, which is developing 'a new CPU design that delivers sufficient speed with incredibly low power requirements.' Apple has invested $ 3 million in Acorn Computers (about 500 million yen at the rate at the time) to help CPU design engineers become independent as Acorn RISC Machine and later Arm Holdings.

Tesla brought back Steve Caps, an engineer at the time of Macintosh development, to Apple and rebooted the Newton project around the concept of a 'handwriting-based mobile device.'

The biggest challenge in the development of Newton was 'development of handwriting recognition software', but there is an urban legend that there was a strange encounter behind this.

One day, when Al Eisenstadt, Apple's vice president of board, was staying in Moscow, Russia, someone asked for the hotel he was staying at. It was a Russian engineer who knocked on Eisenstadt's room, and he gave Eisenstadt a floppy disk and ran away. After that, when I took this floppy disk back to Apple and had it analyzed, it said that there was also a demo of handwriting recognition software.

I don't know if this episode is true, but Apple has since signed a deal with Stepan Pachikov, who founded a company called Para Graph International, to develop handwriting recognition software.

With the implementation of the Arm processor and the prospect of handwriting recognition, the Newton development project has begun to take off. The final size and shape of Newton was particularly controversial, and Scully said, 'It must fit in a jacket pocket.' On the other hand, the engineer joked, 'Let's sneak into Scully's house at night and remake the jacket to make the pocket bigger.'

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on May 29, 1992, Apple unveiled Newton for the first time. In this keynote at CES, Scully described Newton as a 'Personal Digital Assistant' and coined the term PDA.

And 'Newton MessagePad' was officially released on August 2, 1993. The price was 900 dollars (about 99,000 yen at the rate at that time). The display of the device is a black-and-white LCD screen with a resolution of 240 x 320 pixels, a length of 4.5 inches (about 11.4 cm) x a width of 3.5 inches (about 8.9 cm), and the backlight was not installed, but it will be installed in the model upgrade. It came to be.



The initial type of battery was four AAA batteries, but as a result of the model change, it has changed to AA batteries. The maximum driving time is about 30 hours.

by Jim Abeles

Newton is equipped with a unique OS 'Newton OS' coded in C ++. In Newton, I was able to take notes, use a calculator, perform some simple formulas, act as a contact book, and manage appointments with a calendar. Ars Technica says it was ahead of its time in supporting ebooks and enabling wireless communication using infrared ports. NewtonScript, a proprietary custom development language, also allowed third-party developers to develop their own applications.

And the main feature of Newton is that it allows handwriting input with the attached plastic stylus. However, this handwriting recognition did not work well in the early model, so it seems that he could not take notes properly. In the animation 'The Simpsons', a scene was drawn in which 'Beat up Martin' was written and 'Eat up Martha' was entered, and the terrible handwriting input accuracy of Newton was made into a story.

Another drawback of the early models, the Newton MessagePad and Newton MessagePad 100, was that the CPU performance couldn't keep up with the overly sophisticated Newton OS. Therefore, it seems that the initial model was so badly received that users ridiculed it as 'this is a beta version of the product'.

However, the accuracy of the handwriting recognition system was improved by the subsequent OS upgrade, the main body design was renewed, the CPU speed was increased, the display became huge, the backlight was installed and the gradation of the display was improved, and the dictionary function to assist the handwriting input. The product will be greatly improved, such as the addition of a function that rotates the screen when the terminal is turned sideways, and the function that allows you to view image files and play music files. In addition, the eMate 300 with a built-in physical keyboard has been released for educators.

Apple released many models while improving Newton, but the result was a disastrous loss of sales. Cumulative shipments of the Newton series were 200,000 units, well below Apple's expectations.

The Newton project was canceled when Jobs returned to Apple in 1998. There was also a plan to separate the Newton project, which was Scully's heart, from Apple as a business of another company, but Jobs seems to have refused this as well.

However, the Newton project that ended in just six years, such as Jonathan Ive who was in charge of the main body design of Newton, Greg Christie who was in charge of UI / UX design, and Mike Calvert who decided to install Arm processor in Newton. Some of the people involved will then be deeply involved with the iPod and iPhone. In addition, the prototype of Newton Script had a great influence on the development of Java Sctipt. Although the Newton project itself was unsuccessful, it can be said that the gene has been passed down to the present day.

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