It’s amazing how quickly the years flow by and that it’s been nearly 25 of them since the introduction of Apple’s Newton. Actually, it has been a full quarter century since John Scully, then CEO at Apple, was pitched the concept of a smaller, handheld device by Michael Tchao and decided to make it a reality. This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the MessagePad’s release on August 3rd, 1993, at MacWorld Expo in Boston, which Scully had initially previewed to press at CES in Chicago, back on May 29th of 1992. Crazier still, the release of the Newton came less than a decade after that of the Macintosh. Sadly, it never really got the chance to see its full potential.
Like every revolutionary product, there are many fascinating accounts of the development and release. Some of them documented in the book Defying Gravity: The Making of Newton, others in the Newton section of Andy Hertzfeld’s folklore.org. Douglas Luckie’s page covering the original Newton MessagePad is required reading on, and one can’t forget Landon Dyer’s account of the last minute ROM patching before the release! Luke Dormhel just wrote a nice little overview for Cult of Mac, and Benjamin Edwards had a more thorough piece for Macworld at the 20th anniversary.
While I personally can no longer fault Apple for cancelling the Newton in 1998, refocusing, blossoming, and developing a new generation of mobile computing with the iPhone and iPad, I still wish to see a future where Newtons had continued to be developed. While I still use my MessagePad 2100 every day and find it to be the best tool for many tasks—for me, at least, though I’m not the only one—it’s also a disappointing that it’s mostly stuck in 1998. I say mostly as a huge debt of gratitude is owed to all the individuals who have helped keep the Newton platform alive, producing patches, software, bits of hardware, and providing tons of support over the years, allowing it reach out into the future that Apple only imagined.
I look forward to the full 25th anniversary with my Newton. After all, what’s a couple more years?