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My view of Apple's ill-fated Newton

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

My view of Apple's ill-fated Newton

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

Note: The Newton bombed. Apple still can't make a dent with the Newton, even after many revisions, four years after this review was written.

Is the world ready for Newton? Not the Isaac kind. The Apple kind. As in Apple Computer, the world's largest manufacturer of the kind of little computers that you can put on your lap or stick in a briefcase.

But Newton isn't just a computer, and it won't just fit in your briefcase. It could fit into your lunch box—into the little plastic bag that holds your sandwich, even. It's that small.

But what is Newton, besides "more than a computer" and "less than small"? Apple would like to know. A full year ago, Apple announced that it was going to produce a tiny Personal Digital Assistant that could do all sorts of things that would change our lives. And now, it's here.

Yawn! If I bought a Newton, the only part of my life that would change is my relationship with the bank that holds my VISA card. I'd be $800 further in debt.

Everything that Newton does is great, but I can do all of them already. It takes notes (I have a pad and a pencil), it keeps track of appointments (I have an appointment book on my PC), it sends faxes (I have a fax machine), it handles electronic mail (I do that on my computer), and it even reads my own handwriting (I can do that, too).

To be sure, Newton is a technological marvel. It even has a great pun—Apple's Newton, Newton's Apple. In a sense, I feel like a party pooper. Apple wants everyone in the press to love this little thing. The public seems to think it's grand; the first stores to sell it, in New York City and Boston, have been selling out of each shipment in record time.

But I'm not sure the world is ready for a pocket computer that has no keyboard and a tiny display. It comes with an easily misplaced pen that you use to scribble things on its screen, for example. And you can buy extra-cost program cards that play Game-Boy-type diversions. Or you can pull it out of your pocket on the 18th hole and check off your golf score.

Big deal.

I'm not being cynical, despite my lack of enthusiasm. I've been present at the birth of new technology before. I fell in love with color TV; many, many years ago I marveled at the Walkman. I bought a CD player off the back of the boat when the first shipment came ashore.

And I admit that somebody has to make the first electric fork and the first vibrating running shoe. That's the way technology works. You come up with an idea, you give it wings, and you see whether it can fly.

The Newton, all 16 ounces of it, will make a great bird. It will be a sensation this winter, when the well-heeled among us are choosing holiday gifts.

I see in the Newton only one promising development—the invention of something truly small that can do some of the things that my regular computer can do. Some day, this idea will reach a really useful stage. You'll be able to buy a watch that is actually a computer, or you'll have a powerful computer that both fits in your pocket and costs $50.

And the Newton will be the forerunner of these better gadgets to come. For that, we should all be glad.

As for whether the world is ready for Newton, I'll pass. The real question is whether Newton is ready for the world.

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