It’s hard to believe that fourteen years ago on August 3, 1993, Apple released the Newton MessagePad. I was one of its early adopters, purchasing it just before my freshman year at college. It was the device that got me hooked on mobile computing, and it paved the way for where I am professionally today.
Newton’s growth was stopped at four and a half years of age when the product was canceled in February, 1998. At the time, Apple was in dire straits, and Steve Jobs felt that a renewed focus on Mac OS meant side businesses like Newton had to go. We can only speculate what could have happen had Newton spun off as an independent company or if Apple had sold the technology. You can’t argue with the results of what happened to Apple in the ensuing years. The company has never been in a better position for success, thanks in large part to Mac OS X, the iPod and now the iPhone.
Still, Newtons are in use today, nine years after cancellation. Modern technologies like Bluetooth and WiFi are available for the Newton, and projects like DyneTK and Open Einstein will ensure that Newton technology lives on in devices beyond the aging MessagePad hardware. Who knows how long it will last? If Newton were someone with a terminal illness, I’m sure it would be grateful for every extra day it’s being used by people around the world. There’s nothing worse for a technology than for it to be discontinued, forgotten, and shoved into the dustbin of technology.
So, a toast today to the Newton! Happy 14th Birthday!