Former Apple CEO John Sculley tells story of ARM and Newton; origins of Apple’s mobile dominance

“One of Apple’s first forays into the arena that we think of today as ‘mobile’ computing was the Newton MessagePad,” Matthew Panzarino reports for TNW. “As a pocketable, hand-sized device that was meant to be a a personal organizer, the MessagePad ended up being a long-winded failure for Apple, but it did plant some seeds for what would eventually become Apple’s mobile empire, including the iPhone and iPad.”

“Recently, at an SFTA event held at Citrix HQ, former Apple CEO John Sculley talked about the origins of the Newton and the ARM processor, which was a joint venture between Apple, Acorn Computers and VLSI,” Panzarino reports. “The ARM6 was used as the processor for the first Newton MessagePad, as Apple needed a more power efficient CPU for its portable.”

Panzarino reports, “To give you an idea of how important the ARM project was — the iPhone you’re holding still uses a derivative of the ARM core designed for the Newton.”

More info and video of Sculley in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “Dan K.” for the heads up.]


  1. The Newton was way before my time but from what I’ve seen on YouTube videos, it had a black & white screen & a stylus to operate the onscreen icons.

    I suppose the Newton was the father of all PDAs, except that it flopped badly in the market. I’ve never seen one in real life. I think my dad said he had one but I’m not sure because I’ve never seen it. From what I see it was only good for drawing curly curves onscreen and that was about the extent of it..

    1. I had a couple of Newtons back in the ’90s. They were very good for their time. In fact, the To-Do list function was the best ever, and none I’ve tried on today’s devices is better. I could send faxes from hotel rooms back to my office. The handwriting worked VERY good if you gave it half a chance; it really did learn to read and translate your handwriting. It was a great organizer, hampered primarily by price and size. Palm came in with a line that improved on both of these fronts. Graffiti worked but was not a quick and elegant as Newton’s handwriting recognition. You had to learn how to draw Graffiti characters instead of letting Newton learn your natural handwriting. I miss my Newton. I lost it on an airplane.

  2. If I recall correctly, at least one pharmaceutical manufacturer purchased Newton’s for is field sales force. Now most pharmaceutical reps carry some sort of laptop with a reversible touch screen. Haven’t seen any carrying iPads… yet.

  3. Sculley was the father of the Newton and hence the ARM development, so it’s probably no coincidence that Sculley points to ARM’s success.
    Credit where credit is due.

    1. Sculley was also “father” of PowerPC architecture, which was implemented in products in 1994 already after he left Apple.

      In case of ARM Apple was downgrading desktop Acorn RISC CPU to a mobile one. And with PowerPC Apple was downgrading workstation IBM Power CPU to a desktop one.

      Now Apple is the reason why two of the top three CPU architectures in the history of mankind exist.

  4. Newton was a great idea with completely botched execution.

    For example, instead of integrating with the Mac ecosystem, the Newton required its own, (rather nonexistent) ecosystem.

    1. Apple didn’t have an “ecosystem” In the 90s. Or at least what we would call an ecosystem today.

      It was NOT botched execution. As tbone says below, it was ideas that were ahead of the tech reality of the day.

  5. Newton was ahead of its time. It was crippled by being underpowered for the tasks it wanted to do. Its operating system didn’t get handwriting recognition down until it was too late. It was hampered by a big price tag. Palm came along and used a simpler system (graffiti) for its tasks. It was not as sophisticated, but its low price allowed it to gain traction. Jobs probably felt that the technology would never be up to snuff in that particular incarnation and killed it in 1997.

  6. The Newton was amazing! Anybody that actually had one knows that the iPhone is just an updated Newton. The term PDA came from the Newton. Sure it was a flop, but much of it was good old FUD. I still have mine, no I don’t use it any more but it is still a marvel. Modem card, handwriting (it worked great despite what you hear), you could even watch QT movies on it! Black and white but remember the Newton was a couple of years BEFORE the World Wide Web was born. I suspect in decades to come the Newton will given a lot more credit the direction the tech trends moved forward. The roots of most of today’s mobile can be traced to products like the Newton and in a lot of cases only the Newton.

  7. @Ballmer
    You missed it! Too bad, the Newton was pretty amazing “for its time” and the tech that was available. People tend to forget both those when the look at a Newton. Like I said in my last post, the iPhone is just a Newton with updated parts.

  8. The Newton was an incredible handheld computer, years before its time. I owned them all, and still have a 2100 plugged in and operational, just to play with occasionally for fun. It had two major deficiencies. First, it had an independent OS that was incompatible with the MacOS, and second, it cost over a thousand dollars, a non-starter for a consumer product. Its handwriting recognition started out OK, but became excellent as it matured. But, Doonesbury mocking it killed its cache, and that was that. There’s no doubt that today’s iPhone is the latest iteration of that dream.

  9. Certainly, Sculley deserves credit for working toward tech innovations while at Apple. However, sitting next to Hillary in the gallery during a State of the Union speech may have raised his profile in the 1990s, but simply did not get it done to take the world by storm …

  10. I had every Newton ever produced and loved the MessagePad 2100. I kept mine alive well past its time.

    The UI for handwriting input is still better than any other recognition app I’ve seen since. I’d love to see a system wide option for handwriting recognition built into the iPad, but I know that’s not likely to happen.

    One thing that I think Apple learned from the Newton is the need for seamless integration and sync of contacts, calendars, notes, etc. It was the one flaw that kept the Newton from being the essential PDA.

  11. One of my favorite versions of the Newton was the eMate. It was the precursor to the MacBook Air that ran the Newton OS. It had a hollow for the stylus above the full hardware but no mousepad.

    It was AWESOME for taking notes in class and could print directly to my laser printer. It was super durable too, the Apple rep on campus tossed one across the atrium and it slid and bounced off the opposite wall with no damage.

    The one we had was on loan for evaluation though and had to be turned back in. Very very sad day that was.

  12. John Sculley was nearly the beginning of the end of Apple.

    Call it what you want; but the MP120 on through the MP21XX and eMate (running on a matured version of the Newton OS) were hardly flops. Unless; as others have stated, ‘being ahead of its time’ means being a flop. The negative attitude against the various Message Pads and the Newton OS is based on initial releases and not what it became!!!

  13. Palm nut that I am. If palm had got thier act together we’d all using using it. Best calendar best task manager. Best way to interface with the device. What apple did was almost the same thing but got all the apps in one place. Rather than going to one site for freeware another for shareware another for paid apps. APP STORE was the stroke that killed Palm. As for the iPod. U know that u only “rent” the songs right. When u die u give it back. Thus the great prices.

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