Happy Endings Archive
MARCH 10th, 1998
Happy Endings Todd Stauffer
([email protected])

The Ego Has Landed

It's not just the fact that Apple killed Newton that's got me riled. I understand it was an important business decision and that Apple may be focused on some Mac OS Lite solution for handhelds. Even though I loved the Newton, I never managed to buy myself a MessagePad 2100, still waiting for a time when I had cash to burn and Apple offered a fire sale on the thing.

What I'm upset about is the way Apple went about telling people about the death of the Newton. Sure, it was a lot like the off-the-cuff remarks by Steve Jobs last year at the WWDC -- a bit snide, a bit presumptuous. I certainly got the feeling that the micromanaged press release had Mr. Jobs' signature all over it. It felt a little like the way OpenDoc was cut -- abrupt, with Apple employees and Newton's ardent supports casting about to make sense of it all.

But this time it's different. This time, Apple's culturally ingrained ego got in the way. Too focused on products, technology and its own coolness, Apple stomped, once again, on hapless users. In this case, though, the Cupertino clog may have landed on the wrong toes.

Usually, when Apple cuts a project these days, they're cutting something on the leading -- or bleeding -- edge. Cut OpenDoc and a few developers are upset, along with a cadre of users who, like myself, took the extra time to experiment with OpenDoc technology at the expense of, say, heading to the mall or hanging around in Home Depot. The same sort of thing with QuickDraw GX and Speech Technologies, although, in most of these cases, the reasoning behind the death of the technology -- and even a migration path for current users -- was made abundantly clear.

In the case of Newton -- specifically the eMate -- we're not talking about bleeding edge users, and that's what makes me mad. We're talking about regular, honest-to-God teachers and school administrators who were sold the the Newton OS and the eMate. They were told it was the next great thing, they liked what they saw and they went out and evangelized the products for Apple. They got the eMates into kids hands and proved that the technology has some bite. And Apple knows that.

In fact, I'm all but certain that the eMate isn't dead -- there are sure rumors that suggest it continuing on, and even Apple says there's a product in 1999. But what the hell is Apple telling its teachers? Nothing. What's the migration plan that Apple laid out for schools to soften the Newton-is-dead announcement? Nothing. How stupid is this? Plenty.

Aren't there rules to how you do this sort of thing? Should someone give Jobs a marketing textbook? Back in the early 1980s, technology marketing was about product. You had something cool, geeky people wanted it, so everybody lined up in front of ComputerLand a 6 a.m. and talked about at ad nauseum. Things have changed, though. Today, people look to technology companies as problem solvers and solution providers. If Apple is going to pull the rug out from under a segment of its customer base, isn't there some logic to at least offering those a customers a migration solution?

I'm trying to think of something more stupid than the way Apple killed Newton. I know the company didn't want Newton developers to continue working hard on Newton OS applications. But why not wait six months, then seed them with examples and help for translating their Newton applications to Mac OS Lite versions? Why not develop a single, freakin' chart or graph or white paper or something that tells teachers how to go back in front of their school board and demand Mac OS eMates? Why not show school administrators the early workings of a Mac OS classroom server than can integrate both Newton and Mac OS technology?

Apple needs to take a message and try to fix this. For too long, the company's collective ego has helped it shove its foot in its mouth -- then shoot the foot -- even when there's good news to report and profit in the bank. The Mac OS Lite projects may be really cool technology, but we're not talking about food for the hungry, manned missions to Mars or the cure for cancer. They're computers -- tools, solutions.

Sure, computers can be fun and exciting. But ultimately, computers are answers. Which is exactly what I'd like to hear from Jobs and company right now over this Newton thing.