30-year retrospective of the Apple Newton

Originally published at: 30-year retrospective of the Apple Newton | Boing Boing


The MP 2100 finally delivered what the early models promised, but by then that was too little, too late.
Still, a quite nifty machine that was very useful for me, then. Especially on the road. Still the best1) address database I’ve used so far.

1) As in: does exactly what I need it to do elegantly and without any fuss.


The primary feature of the device, the handwriting recognition, did not work well out of the box.

Palm’s solution was to make the user adapt to the product, rather than the other way around:


It must have seemed revolutionary then, but it seems monstrous now.


“Graffiti” as it was called, was indeed a very clever UX solution and it did work well. The concept still exists on modern smartphones for many non-Latin-character languages.

There were Graffiti apps for the Newton as well, but they were not recommended because they wore out one square inch of your screen. That said, I used it on mine because it worked a lot better than the built in recognition.

It’s worth noting that handwriting recognition and writing-based UX is back on the new iPads. They have things like scribbling out text and auto-connecting vector graphics that the Newton did. I hope it works better now. :grin:

The Newton was a classic 80/20 problem. It worked 80% of the time and was magical when it did. However, the remaining 20% is so annoying and inconvenient that it renders the device unusable. Modern equivalents to this are things like autocorrect and smart speaker voice recognition. They are more like 95/5, but still that last 5% is a deal killer for many.

Organic technologies are hard. It’s exponentially difficult to get slightly better so they all plateau at an asymptote just shy of working perfectly.


I keep trying to use this on my Apple Watch.

Eagle-eyed viewers will be thrilled to note that in the alternate reality of For All Mankind, the Newton appears to have been a success. You can spot one in the Season 3 premiere.


My wife still hasn’t forgiven Jobs for knifing the Newton when he returned for Apple. She still has her Newton collection stored away for that day when the dead shall walk among the living.


Ah, Graffiti - one of many things to have ruined my handwriting. I still find myself writing an epsilon when writing a capital E sometimes.

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Depressingly, learning to use that would improve my handwriting.

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I still have my MessagePad 130. I mainly used it for reading eBooks before eBooks were a thing.

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I was a Handspring owner, so I have a lot of respect for how the Newton team really paved the way for iOS and Android. Newton was the first to think about what we would actually use a pocket-sized computer for, (something the founder of Palm refined by carrying around a wooden block and thinking about what he would pull it out of his pocket for).

The Newton brand may be dead, but it did pave the way. Without the Newton, we wouldn’t have had Palm and PDA’s, or the original iPhone. We would all be using Windows Mobile, or whatever that hot mess was that Nokia made for its first smart phones, and still using microscopic keyboards on our Blackberry PDAs.

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Me neither.

BTW, if anyone is interested in accessories/peripherals…

Same. I wonder if it will still boot-up?

It took the iphone to pry my palm pilot out of its serial cradle home.

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