On Apple, the Newton, the 90s and me

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For people now, it’s may be hard to imagine Apple as anything other than a tremendously successful company. But in the 90s, it was the opposite. Under John Sculley and others, it was in major decline and all but at death’s door before Steve Jobs came back.

In some ways the Newton you see above was emblematic of that time. It was a device that Apple tried to use to regain the magic that it once had. It failed, but in some ways it was a glorious failure. (The Powerbook also came out at that time and it was a fine machine but the problems of Apple were baked into it.)

I’ve always had a fondness for the Newton, and wanted one for a long time, even though I could not justify getting one. And then Jobs returned and tossed it in the bin like so much crumpled paper. It was a smart decision, but a sad one for me.

That’s why I was really interested to read this recently: The Newton at 30. It’s a great rundown on that device. Reading it, I was happy to see that some of the original ideas found in the Newton later made their way into other mobile products from Apple. Good ideas deserve a home, even if they were never going to find that home in the Newton.

In the 90s I had a small role in developing IBM software that ran on Macs and that allowed our customers to access our IBM Global Network via a Mac. I loved building Apple Software, even if it was a nightmare at times. (Writing software for a rapidly declining company is no easy thing.) At the time I got to work on the Powerbook 1400 and 3400 and hang out at Apple and play around with the emate 300. It was a good time despite the difficulty. I never got a Newton then, thought I got close.

Later in the second decade of the 21st century I finally got to buy my own Newton! Mint condition, from Kijiji. 100+ bucks! Funny, a device that was so cutting edge when it first came out seems so limited now! It was a good reminder how fast technology moves. I was still glad to have it. It’s a wonderfully collectable device.

For more on the Newton, click that link.

Happy Anniversary, Newton. You were truly ahead by a century.

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