The Newton, The First PDA:    10 of 11 
A Free Newton with Your Plastic Pen, Sir?
Author: Frank Gruendel
Date: undated
Topics: The Original MessagePad, Third Party Developers
Summary: How I learned of the Newton and fell in love. By a third-party hardware developer.

I was attending an Apple Developer Conference in London because I needed to test a NuBus Board I had developed for the Apple Macintosh (Mac II it was then, or for those with lots of money Mac IIx).

At that time I didn't even know that something like the Newton existed although I was fairly up to date in terms of computer hardware. That much to Apple's marketing...

When I registered and got my badge, they told me to hold on to it at all cost, but didn't tell why. As they weren't going to let me in anywhere without it, I thought this was the obvious thing to do anyway and didn't think any more about it.

At the third day we had a joint informal dinner, lots of hardware developers from all over the world and many Apple employees. Somewhere halfway through the main course some Apple guy stepped in the middle of the room and started a speech. Basically what he was trying to get across (thought I) was that they were going to give us a present, and this present was what looked to me like a very cheap and useless plastic part remotely resembling a ballpoint pen. He praised this pen for some minutes, me thinking more and more that this was some stupid kind of joke. Then, mumbling, as a side note, he said "OK, you can have the Newton, too!"

Now imagine about 99 developers unanimously uttering sounds like "Aaaahhh", "Oooohhh" or "Woooow", and one developer (me) looking fairly stupid, asking "What the hell is this guy talking about all the time, and what on earth is a Newton?"

Back then I was aware of two Newtons: Isaac and Helmut. I strongly doubted that Apple was going to give either of them to a hundred hardware developers, so I was kind of unsure as to what was coming. But I kept quiet because the 99 developers around me looked as if Santa Claus, including sledge and all the reindeers, had just ridden across their very plate. Most likely it was going to be a good thing.

A line began to form, and as I hadn't too much to do anyway, I joined it. Slowly we proceeded towards the guy who had tried to sell us the benefits of the ballpoint pen. Next to him was a big cardboard box, and when it was my turn I was handed a brand new OMP (Original MessagePad) out of it. Originally sealed (even the shrinkwrap would be worth a fortune at eBay these days). Complete with four AAA size batteries, handbook, video cassette and ac adapter. Not to forget the two stickers that are occasionally sold for up to $15 at eBay, and the leather bag.

This was, by the way, where the badge came in. You had to show it before you received the box, and afterwards they punched a hole in it to make sure you wouldn't get in line a second time.

Around 15 minutes later a hundred hardware developers were beaming their business cards. No one really had any idea of how far the infrared beam would reach, some would try to beam across the room, Jesse James like, from their hip. Which of course didn't work, just as beaming across a smaller distance didn't (small wonder as every receiving Newton had an average of 50 senders to choose from). Nobody seemed to mind, though. Everyone, including myself by then, still very much looked like someone across whose plate Santa Claus... (well, I think you get the picture).

After dinner I took this "thing" back to my hotel room. I hadn't really established a relationship by that time, I thought it was a nice toy. Then I found out about hwr (handwriting recognition), then I found out about the Calligrapher handwriting recognition game on the included "Getting Started" ROM card. I played Calligrapher until the batteries were dead, which was around 3 a.m. I contemplated going on with the AC adapter, but it was the US version which was useless in a London hotel. As I had to get up at 5:30 to make it in time for the next session, this was probably a good thing.

The next morning saw me skipping breakfast, instead running around with a Newton minus four dead batteries, buying 3 sets of batteries at the hotel's kiosk at a price I would have got 15 sets elsewhere (it was one of these hotels in which a croissant is available for only $15, but of course that doesn't include coffee).

From that time I was hooked. Not only to the Newton, but to the philosophy of organizers in general. The OMP (which I still have) was followed by a series of other MessagePads (100, 110, 120, 130, 2000) and an eMate. Plus the occasional model from other PDA families like Palm, Psion, Avigo, Omnigo, Sharp...

The Alternatives are a Real Step Backwards
Back to The Newton, The First PDA
Faxing is Easy!

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