Apple's first handheld: the Newton MessagePad
Forgotten Tech Some say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and when you consider the history of the PDA, that statement holds many truths.
While the iPhone looks set to take the market by storm, the HTC S620 and Samsung i600 were good takes on the Blackberry, and the Palm Treo range has long been tested and trusted. The Treo's roots lie in Palm's original Pilot, a product category HP's iPaq range later smartened up.
But all these gadgets have one thing in common: they base their capabilities and concept on the godfather of PDAs. Although sluggish and bulky by today's standards, the device helped set the tone for PDAs to come.
It was, of course, Apple's Newton MessagePad. Born in August 1993, the MessagePad was first unveiled at MacWorld Boston and was priced at around $699.
The first Apple MessagePad
The device was a revolution in personal computing, helping to create a whole new world of mobile working. Well, if you believed Apple's hype, it would. Although commonly referred to as the Newton, this was actually the MessagePad's operating system.
The first MessagePads were manufactured by Sharp Electronics - Sharp even released its own version of the product, the ExpertPad - and featured large, bright and clear 336 x 240 LCD screens, though sadly never in colour. Some early models did feature golden coloured screens, something which many fans were sad to lose when Apple later switched manufacturers.
The main body of the MessagePad was also often encased in rubberised plastic, but after heavy use tended to flake or peel and so was later dropped as a feature by Apple.
At its core, the first MessagePads were relatively sophisticated for the time. The 100 - Apple's second MessagePad, introduced in March 1994 - used a 20MHz ARM processor, alongside 640KB RAM. The last MessagePad, the 2100, introduced in November 1997, had a 162MHz processor and included 8MB of memory - 4MB of Ram and 4MB of Flash. By this point, the screen had grown to 320 x 480 but could only show 16 shades of grey.
Apple's second-gen MessagePad, the 110
For many this was of little significance, because the MessagePad meant something else. It meant people no longer had to be tied to their desks in order to perform computing tasks.
Still using my 2100
And I will continue to use it until someone comes out with a PDA that can match it in usefulness.
Successful Innovation requires as many as possible new forms
Successful innovation needs as many as possible new forms of a device to come to the fore, as often as possible. The Japanese have an inbuilt advantage with innovation, their reluctance to let any single idea or form of a product sit for very long in the manufacturing stage.
The faster you let new thinking make an input and the smaller your manufacturing run, the better you can meet market perceptions with new variations of the same product.
We saw the opposite here in the UK with a fixation on trying to get the maximum length of product run for the minimum product development cost. By the time the business can see that the market is fed up with the currect product, it is too late. Some other innovator has stolen your market from right under your nose. Ergo, we lost cameras, pocket calculators, you name it.
Never try and control your market by any other means than fresh innovation of the product and always test your market by constantly revising the product to suite new perceptions.
Don't forget the eMate
There was a weird Newton-based machine built that's eerily similar to the OLPC: the Newton eMate. It had a keyboard and a little LCD, ran Newton OS, and was cool.
"those using the MessagePad as a compliment to a PC"
As in "hi, PC, you're looking great today!", is it? :O)
Yes, there were PDAs before Newton, alright . . .
Yes, there were. I know -- I still have a couple of the ones I had stuffed in a drawer somewhere. I do also have my MP2000 which I use everyday in my business and a brand new 2100 waiting in the wings for the 2000 to die. I'm not sure if you actually used some of these early PDAs by Sharpe and Casio, but the ones I started with and ditched were unbelievably awful. The Psion was closer to acceptable, but in the end it was really a scaled down laptop, much akin to the Windows CE efforts, albeit much better than WinCE.
The Newton, on the other hand was an integrated device that was created with pen computing in mind at every turn. A real treat to use (as I still do). It's funny to think how those awful early PDA interfaces drove the folks at Apple to come up with something more intuitive -- that is the same drive behind the iPhone. Boom? or Bust? Only time will tell -- meanwhile -- everyday my MP2000 soldiers on!