10-Year Newton Anniversary

Ten years ago this month, Apple Computer, Inc. released the highly anticipated Newton Personal Digital Assistant at MacWorld Boston. Ten years ago I was a wide-eyed freshman entering Stanford University. Much has changed in my life in the ensuing decade, but in the handheld space, sadly, not much has changed. PDA’s have gotten smaller, though in the case of the TabletPC, they’ve gotten bigger, but the functionality remains pretty much the same. When people think of handwriting recognition, they think of Graffiti, the system used by Palm handhelds. Sorry, but that’s stroke recognition, not handwriting recognition. The excellent print recognizer of the Newton goes unmentioned, even though it remains to this day the best recognizer I’ve ever used. The system used on the Pocket PC’s is not bad (and it’s a direct descendant of the Newton’s original HWR system by ParaGraph), but the digitizers on the PPC’s blow in comparison to the one on the Newton.

Handheld owners are using their devices the same reasons as before: keeping tracking of their calendars, contacts and to-do’s. There never has been a universal killer application developed for handheld devices. Games, no. Internet, no. Productivity, no. Communication and connectivity have been revealed to be the true killer application for mobile devices: voice communication and/or text communication. Email, Instant Messaging, and SMS have made inroads into mobile phones, which have always and continue to outsell handheld devices by a wide margin. Convergence won’t happen; rather, the mobile phone industry will swallow up the handheld industry in the near future.

Despite all the gloom and doom that I speak, there’s still much to be happy about. The Newton still is one of the more advanced PDA’s out there. Developers are still developing cutting-edge applications for the device nearly 5 years after its demise at the hands of Apple management. Once again, the adage, “Newton never dies, it just gets new batteries,” still holds true today.

The rabid Newton owners got together Tuesday evening to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Newton’s release at our montly Stanford Newton User Group meeting. Along with the regulars, Flash, Glen, Randeep, Peter, Dave, and Greg, we had a few new people at the meeting, including Robert and CJ. Woo Lee from LANUG down in LA also made the 400 mile drive up to the Bay Area to attend the meeting! Woo and Robert brought with them an impressive collection of Newton goods, including an accelerated Newton (it was fast!) and many copies of Silicon Casino (Bring Las Vegas to your office!).

I leaned on my Newton development experience to help CJ fix his cracked screen Newton. When you have a cracked screen, the digitizer is rendered inoperable, which means your Newton is pretty much hosed. CJ had Data Rescue installed on a card, but the problem was his Dock settings were set to communicate on the serial port at 9600 bps. Using Greg’s PowerBook and the Newton Toolkit, I whipped up a quick auto part extension that changed the Dock settings to communicate at the normal serial port setting. Once that was done, the backup of CJ’s Newton began properly. Unfortunately, Greg’s PowerBook battery conked out next, which ended the backup process. Ya fix one, problem and another arrives…

In other news, I ran into Beverly and Arthur at Printer’s Inc. yesterday evening. Arthur, I believe, used to be roommates with my cousin, King, when they were at Stanford. He’s now at Stanford Medical School whereas Bev is finishing up her Ph.D. in Computer Science.

And now for some photos from the SNUG meeting. Enjoy!

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