The Apple Newton was officially discontinued on February 27, 1998. If you know about the device, you probably know that it’s had a rocky existence in its relatively short time on Earth.
So why bother remembering Newton, and especially its ending? If Newton hadn’t finished, we might not have invented the iPhone or the smartphone in general. So, read on to see how the Apple Newton started us on the way to the world of computers in our pockets.
What was the Apple Newton and why did it fail?
The Newton was the world’s first “personal digital assistant” or PDA. Then Apple CEO John Sculley actually coined the term PDA in a 1992 product announcement.
As a PDA, the Apple Newton could take notes, act as a digital calendar, store contact information, be a calculator, and send faxes. It can also send messages to a pager if you get an optional accessory card for it.
It did all of that while meeting Scully’s major requirement for a device—that it fit in her pocket. The Newton was the first truly highly mobile computer, although its release in August 1993 meant that it did not have many wireless features.
To operate the Newton, you’ll use its stylus to tap icons and different parts of the screen. To write on it, you can use a stylus to tap individual keys on the on-screen collapsible keyboard, or use the Newton’s handwriting recognition feature, which was a major selling point.
Users can turn on the recognition feature and write words on the Newton’s screen with the stylus. Newton would then interpret these scribbles and type the words onto his screen. It can also interpret drawn shapes and once drawn will refine them with straight lines or more precise curves.
Unfortunately, Newton’s handwriting recognition feature was a major contributor to its downfall, as it did not work well with early units. Words will get odd spacing between letters or be misinterpreted completely. The results were very funny – The Simpsons poked fun at the difficulties of Newton’s interpretation – but they were also very frustrating for early users.
So, despite being a profound innovation in size and portability for computers, the Newton was a device with some very public failures. As a result, it only got five years on the market before Apple discontinued production entirely.
Why Apple Discontinued Newton
The eventual discontinuation of the Newton PDA was the result of a number of factors. But the final call was made by one man: Steve Jobs.
Jobs founded Apple in 1976 but resigned as CEO in 1985 after a power struggle with John Sculley. After Scully was ousted by Apple’s board in 1993, Jobs was brought back to Apple in 1997, where he remained CEO until his death in 2011.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple with work on several different projects, and the company was $200 million in debt. He turned down several projects to get Apple back to profitability; In February 1998, Newton was one of them.
Why the end of Newton though? Despite fixing many of the handwriting recognition problems with Newton OS 2.0 and introducing an external keyboard for the device, sales were not improving. The Newton’s high price ($800 at the time, which is equivalent to $1470 in 2023) also contributed to low sales overall.
The Newton also fared poorly in comparison to the emerging Palm Pilot PDAs. And Jobs was impressed neither by the management of the Newton team, nor by Newton’s writing. As a result, Apple ceased production of Newton and redistributed the Newton team elsewhere.
Apple’s Newton Legacy
Although the Newton is no longer manufactured by Apple, it has lived on in the company in various ways—namely, what inspired it—after its demise.
Many of the people who worked on Newton at Apple went on to join the team that invented the first iPhone. Original Search The launch of the iPhone is a pivotal moment in the history of cell phones, but it’s a portable computer that Apple owes much to Newton.