The story behind Apple’s revolutionary Newton

Apple Online Store“When the first whispers of an Apple tablet started going around, we’d found it amusing that Apple hired back an old Newton PDA developer. Now that the mythical device is closer, we’ve been reminiscing more about Apple’s original tablet,” Tom Hormby writes for Low End Mac in an article just republished by Gizmodo today.

“In the late 1980s, Apple appeared to be in the middle of a resurgence. John Sculley had forced out the volatile Steve Jobs in 1985, and a cadre of older, more experienced executives focused on building the Apple and Macintosh brands. The company was beginning to grow complacent, working to protect Macintosh revenues at the cost of interoperability and new technology,” Hormby explains.

“John Sculley, Apple’s CEO, had toyed with the idea of creating a Macintosh-killer in 1986,” Hormby writes. “He commissioned two high budget video mockups of a product he called Knowledge Navigator. Knowledge Navigator was going to be a tablet the size of an opened magazine, and it would have very sophisticated artificial intelligence. The machine would anticipate your needs and act on them.”

Read the extensive full article – recommended – here.


  1. Ah, yes, my Newton 2000 still works just fine — very good handwriting recognition and all.

    Although… I’m so anxious to see what Apple has come up with now, 13 years later, and rehearsing how I’ll justify buying one when there are so many more important things I should be spending scarce $$ on.

  2. I *still* have two Newtons…I don’t use them but they were AMAZING not only for their day but for a long time after Apple pulled the plug on them. Anybody that didn’t have one has no idea how good they were. The iPhone is just an updated Newton. A lot changed in 20 years but the Newton is still pretty darn amazing.

  3. Apple killed the product but never gave up on the name….I remember I could watch video on it and it always surprised me when the press or anybody else used to slam the handwriting recognition , found it to be pretty close to perfect.

  4. The Newton was a strange phenomenon: maligned in the press and the butt of Doonesbury cartoons, all the while we Newton owners fell in love with our devices and fully integrated them into our lives. A scheduler, notetaker (with near 100% recognition), apps, and dozens of ebooks, all years before anything else comparable came on the market. And they were a lot more stable than the later appearing Pocket PCs.

    I’m predicting the new Apple tablet will be a similar phenomenon as the Newton: the press will be clueless as to its strengths and strategic benefits, it will be the brunt of Leno jokes, all the while it will carve out a solid niche among those who “get it” (similar to the MacBook Air). It won’t be an iPhone phenomenon, since it won’t have the mass appeal among cell-phone carrying soccer moms or with the Nintendo set.

  5. Thus, the true brilliance of Steve Jobs, he doesn’t let a product out until it’s ready for prime time.

    It’s the brand. Micro$haft can put out bad and buggy software and gradually improve it. However, Apple, with it’s verticle market and only mfg. and not possibly afford a product to crash, as the entire brand is diminished.

    Thus, with Micro$haft products available on IBM, Acer, HP, etc. it’s not possible for a product to get hammered into consumer oblivion, but with Apple, that’s a very real possibility, that unfortunately, Newton proved.

    The article was incredibly interesting, and I’d like to know the inside scoop of why Steve J. killed the newton.

    Would it really have taken that many resources to keep running? and, why couldn’t they have left it as a product they could license to other mfg’s?

  6. The Newton 2.0 OS fixed the handwriting recognition. It was really bad in 1.x — I couldn’t write an ‘S’ without it being changed to a ‘5’. But with 2.0, it was better than anything that I’ve seen available even today.

    The Newton’s handwriting recognition is one reason I never bought a Palm — after the Newton, I refused to learn Graffiti. Why take several steps back?

  7. speaking of handwriting recognition has anybody tried the App Shape Writer….”to me” at the very least it looks like a great way to put in a lot of text quickly and it ” I wish it was the default way to add text on the iPhone….maybe Apple should buy the company and take the idea and really do something with it.

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