Newton: the right idea at the wrong time?

Filed under: Hardware,People,Software

NewtonApple considered it to be its biggest opportunity since the introduction of the Macintosh and a chance to reinvent itself. But after ten years of development, spending more than 100 USD Million and five years on the market selling just 300000 units, it was clear that the Newton was not a new device “for the rest of us” and definitely not Infinite Loop’s future.

The project, started in 1987 as a pen computing platform and focused on a smaller size and scope after 1991 pitch by Product Marketing Manager Michael Tchao to Apple’s CEO John Sculley, was launched in 1993 and was killed in 1998 by the new interim CEO, Steve Jobs, who discontinued the last products to use Newton technology, the MessagePad 2100 and the eMate 300. [For the record, five months before Jobs had stated in an email that the eMate had a “bright future”, and it looked like both the State of Texas and Australia were planning of adopting the device to replace students textbooks and aging PC computers, respectively.]

The Newton had failed on the market and Apple was betting all of its resources and money in the evolution of the Macintosh and a new NeXT-based operating system. Tchao had already left Apple, in 1994, as had the Newton’s main developers, Steve Capps and Walter Smith, who in 1996 seeked refuge at Microsoft.

NewtonThe goal, that of a powerful and easy to use personal and compact digital assistant proved to be “too ambitious”, as Sculley later admitted, emphasizing how the handwriting recognition software of the Newton initially didn’t work very well, harming Newton’s image with no hope of recovery.

Also, the time to market was too long: Sculley introduced the Personal Digital Assistant concept in 1991, almost two years before the first Newton MessagePad shipped. Apple fell victim to project slippage and scope creep. It postponed shipping dates and more importantly had to search the right strategy for the device, one that would not interfere with Macintosh sales. As happened with the PC market, in the meantime an inferior but cheaper “good enough” product – the Palm Pilot – entered and conquered the market that Newton was instrumental in creating.

Apple introduced something comparable to the Newton only in 2007, with the iPhone. But this time the market was ready and so was Apple, famous and healthy thanks to the success of the iPod franchise. Powered by an evolution of the ARM CPU used in the Newton, the iPhone and its software took the industry by storm, selling almost 200 million units in five years, spearheading a slew of very popular products, and welcoming back, in October 2009, Newton’s greatest advocate, Michael Tchao, who is now the VP of Product Marketing at Apple.

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Tuesday 03 September 2013, 7:08 am
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  1. […] Newton: the right idea at the wrong time? → […]

    Pingback by Newton: the right idea at the wrong time? | /home/kOoLiNuS — September 5, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

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