My Turn

Lopped Off the Apple Tree

Jeremy Moore - 2001.08.27

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

There is a branch of the Apple tree many people are not familiar with. It was doomed from its start way back in 1994, all the way to its demise under Steve Job's ascent back to power in 1997.

The Newton OS, a stable, reliable platform developed by Apple for its PDA-ish handheld, the Newton MessagePad. Under somewhat tacky beginnings, the Newton encompassed something other markets had failed to deliver - a feasible alternative to mobile telecommunications and computing.

Started originally as an idea from onetime CEO John Sculley and dubbed the "Knowledge Navigator," the concept had a long and difficult road into production. Finally, at Macworld 1992, the Newton MessagePad prototype debuted. Public release following in 1993. Immediately, the technology was the butt of jokes and parodies, ranging from Saturday Night Lives "Macintosh Post-it Notes" to an appearance in The Simpsons. Still, it was something ahead of its time and a marvel of the day.

However, by 1995 the tables had turned, only two years after the Newton's release, Apple's newest CEO was looking for investors for the Newton project. In January 1996, Gil Amelio became the next CEO, and Apple was over troubled waters. Amelio assured Newton-users that Apple would continue support and expansion of the division, despite low sales figures. By this time Apple had spent nearly $500 million on the project. Amelio soon found that the project was struggling to keep its ground, and Apple was losing too much money - an estimate $15 million each quarter.

The release of the eMate 300, an educational laptop/organizer hybrid brought hope to many and helped to refresh the dying franchise.

May 1997 brought surprise to the public when Apple announced that the Newton division would become an independent company - Newton, Inc. The decision was sound, but after the departure of Amelio and the return of Jobs, Newton, Inc. was integrated back into Apple.

Afterwards, Apple released the Newton Message Pad 2100, a last attempt to make the Newton successful; it ultimately failed along with its predecessors. In February 1998, Apple officially discontinued the Newton project. Many believed it was a revenge - Sculley was the one who fired Jobs in 1985.

Today, nearly ten years after its initial inception, the Newton is stronger than ever. Users can be found in message-boards, auctions, and conventions, and the future only seems to hold more opportunities for this most noble of platforms.

Are you a Newton user? If so, join the Newton email list.

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