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The Forgotten Newton

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I happened to look at my high school yearbook (from 1994) this past weekend. I found it humorous that at the back of the book, there was a color section highlighting the important events from that past year. One such invention that was noted was about the Apple Newton being a revolutionary new device.

I did a double take. The Apple what? Newton? Was that a fad I missed? Apparently, it was. As it turns out, the Newton was actually one of the first “personal digital assistants” or PDAs as we’ve come to know the acronym so well. Yet, I knew Apple definitely hadn’t made such a device in at least the last 8 years or so, and this time I was right. Well, 7 is close enough.

As you can read here, the Newton had a heavily hyped launch, was produced from 1993 to 1998 — although some faulty handwriting recognition features gave it a bad rap — and it met an untimely demise, as many pieces of hardware have before it. I guess the thing that surprised me about the Newton was not that Palm and their subsequent release of the Pilot developed a smaller and more user-friendly device, but that the Palm Pilot was not the ultimate groundbreaker I thought it to be. Not to take take anything away from them, but really Palm just ‘built a better mousetrap’ as the cliche goes.

I think many gadgeteers of today don’t realize that Apple had a hand in the PDA game. With the growth of devices like smartphones, this industry will only get bigger. But in the end, it all goes to show that that one of the companies that starts the ball rolling is not always the one who ends up getting the credit in the public eye.

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About Mark Sahm