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Happy Endings Archive
OCTOBER 29th, 1997
Happy Endings Todd Stauffer
(tstauffer@webintosh.com)

What's Next for Newton

I'm sitting in front of the Seahawks/Raiders game writing this piece on an eMate, Apple's two-pound notebook computer based on Newton technology. It's a useful little computer and a pretty good value. It's not a multimedia presentation machine by any stretch of the imagination, and it could use some software improvements -- like a basic word count feature for the word processor. But it does apparently represent the future of the Newton technology.

And, in that respect, it's very promising.

MessagePad Movement
On the heels of the official announcement of the Newton MessagePad 2100's release comes rumors of layoffs in the Newton division and cuts in the MessagePad line -- the latter probably being a bit overblown. What has been clear from Apple's interim fearless leader, Steve Jobs, is the idea that this little eMate is a compelling product that Apple will be focusing more resources on in the near future. That's a good idea.

I've been a MessagePad user for a couple years now, working hard to get my MessagePad 100 to be useful for me, then having a chance this summer to use a MessagePad 2000 for a few months -- a completely different experience that found me slowly transferring more and more responsibility to the Newton.

The latest StrongARM processor and the Newton OS 2.1 made it possible to substitute the 2000 for my PowerBook on many occasions. In fact, the 2000 ended up being a great machine for a writer, allowing me to type out stories on airplanes, record interviews at trade shows and take quick and quiet notes (using handwriting recognition) during meetings.

The funny thing is, I'd trade all that for the right eMate.

The Right eMate
Call it the "Professional eMate 1000." It features the same basic features as the MessagePad 2000 -- backlighting, 16 grays, a processor as powerful as the Newton 2000 (162 MHz StrongARM) -- along with two PC card slots, a true 9-pin Mac-style serial port and as standard of an infra-red port as possible. The included software on the current eMate is pretty good, although both the word processor and spreadsheet program could use a bit of improvement to make them more useful to adults. Another nice touch would be a finger-stick style mousing device on the keyboard similar to the popular IBM and Toshiba notebook pointing device.

The big difference, though, is a truly detachable keyboard (or, depending upon your point of view, a detachable screen.) Ideally, the "screen" portion of the new eMate design will detach completely from the keyboard, turn sideways and -- surprise -- it works just like a MessagePad. Cool, huh? If everything still comes in under two pounds and the whole contraption isn't too unweildy, I think we might get plenty of folks to use these things on the road.

Even, dare I say, folks who use Windows machines on their desks.

They Will Come
Package the eMate in some good-looking black plastic, add some leather treatments or some sort of classically distinct industrial design, and put some marketing behind the machines. Turn the eMate (perhaps it has a different name) into a status symbol for the truly mobile professional while making it incredibly useful for everyone from students to managers to journalists.

Once, Apple seemed concerned that the eMate would take away from PowerBook sales -- but let's be reasonable. Even low-end PowerBooks aren't particularly affordable ($1,800 and up). If the eMate competes with any PowerBooks, it's PowerBooks on the used market being snapped up by college students and home users. There is a chance, however, that eMates would compete successfully against lower-end Wintel notebooks, or be seen as a reasonable alternative to corporate Wintel laptops and palmtop Windows CE machines.

Here's How
Obviously a full-size CE machine could come along, but there are some unique capabilities of the Newton OS that could really make it stand out. Apple should focus on a few particular improvements to make the eMate uniquely useful for a wide variety of professionals and managers:

  • Make every application as Microsoft Office compatible as possible
  • Make Internet access seamless, including some way to transfer e-mail from the eMate to the users Windows or Mac desktop email program
  • Build and bundle a PalmPilot-style docking option (it could be a wireless IrDA solution)
  • Build the ultimate detachable/workable keyboard solution and keep it two pounds

Make these improvements, design it well and make it cool to own an eMate, and Newton technology might finally fulfill its promise for Apple. It's easily one of the more promising growth markets to appear for Apple in a while.

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