Apple debuted revolutionary Newton MessagePad twenty-six years ago

Apple iPhone 4 (left) next to Newton MessagePad (photo: Harry McCracken / TIME.com)
Apple iPhone 4 (left) next to Newton MessagePad (photo: Harry McCracken / TIME.com)

Luke Dormehl for Cult of Mac:

August 2, 1993: Apple debuts the MessagePad, the first product in its Newton line of handheld personal digital assistants.

The most unfairly maligned product in Apple history, the Newton is a revolutionary device. It predates Apple’s push toward app-based mobile devices 14 years later. Often dismissed as a failure, the Newton ranks near the top of the list of Apple’s most influential creations.

The Newton MessagePad launch at the 1993 Macworld Expo proved relatively low-key compared to the 1984 debut of the Macintosh. Still, Apple’s new handheld device garnered a fair amount of press.

Unfortunately, some of this took the form of parodies of the Newton’s technology. Its handwriting-recognition software took an especially big hit. (It got spoofed in a Doonesbury cartoon and on The Simpsons.)

In fact, the Newton’s handwriting recognition actually worked impressively well. Consider two of its most stunning features (and again, let me remind you this was a quarter-century ago!).

First, the Newton could recognize cursive handwriting as well as printed letters. Second, while it shipped with a library of 10,000 words it could recognize out of the box, it could learn new words like our iPhones do today.

MacDailyNews Take: Blast from the past:

Just when they got it right (Newton 2100), Steve came back and killed it dead. Still, the Newton community struggles on today with handheld computers that in many respects are still the best on the market. Newton technology was used as the basis for the Inkwell component of Mac OS X Jaguar. — MacDailyNews, February 27, 2003

8 Comments

    1. That would be nice. Just make sure they don’t infringe on all the patents for handwriting recognition tech out there now including a big chunk by Microsoft.

    1. I suppose if the Newton can be put on a pedestal now, it’s just natural Google Glass will also be there in a decade or so. That’s not to say a totally different company won’t conquer that niche instead like the Palmpilots did over Newton.

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