Apple Newton: the history of the 90's iPad

Apple's Newton was the company's first attempt at developing the gadget now recognized as a tablet.

With the launch of the latest iPad model, it feels like the right time to look back and see what its predecessor was all about. Apple’s Newton, known as a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), first came out more than 30 years ago and was ready to change people’s technology habits.

The beginning of the personal digital assistant era

Apple developed Newton during the 80s-90s and introduced it in Chicago on May 29th, 1992.

Apple CEO John Sculley first used the term "Personal Digital Assistant" (PDA). Even though it wasn't the first PDA on the market, it was very different from other gadgets available at the time.

One example was the Psion Series 3, a series of personal organizers. These assistants could show up to eight lines of text, including word processing and spreadsheet applications, and could be synchronized with a computer.

Apple's Newton was a remarkable invention for several reasons. It was the company's first product to use an ARM CPU and the first PDA to use handwriting recognition. The gadget also included a touch screen, which was a novelty at that time. It also came with a feature that converted users' handwriting to text thanks to an added stylus pen.

How Apple Newton came to life

Newton included a calendar, contact lists, calculator, and maps, and could take notes and send faxes. It was considered quite a revolutionary gadget back in the '90s because it was a pocket-size computer device with a touch screen.

But the ideas behind the gadget weren't all that original. Sculley wasn't only in charge of Apple but also a board member of General Magic, another prominent tech company at the time. General Magic was working on a secret project from which Sculley took a lot of ideas and integrated them into Apple's Newton.

The first demonstration of Newton took place in 1992, during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This is where Steve Capps, the lead developer of Newton, showed how users could order pizza by putting topping icons on a pizza image and sending the order via fax. The company started selling PDAs in 1993.

The end of Newton

While the product seemed to gain plenty of attention, it soon turned out that Newton could have worked better. Users soon noticed that its handwriting feature didn't work properly, which was infuriating knowing that the gadget was priced at $700 – around $1,200 today.

In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Slow sales didn't help with him already hating the device and its stylus pen. So, a year later, Jobs marked the end of Newton. Nevertheless, he took some "good" parts from the product and used them when creating the iPhone.

Now, Newton is seen as a piece of history that can still be bought online as a tech antiquity for a couple of hundred dollars.

Apple Newton PDA for sale
Image from eBay

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