August 1-7: Newton Introduced, Big Brother Bill
Published October 31st, 2004

This week in Apple history, we have yet more Newton history, for it was this week in 1993 that the first Newton was officially introduced by Apple. The MessagePad was a remarkable piece of computing technology (see the specs below), but ended up being hammered by the press (especially by Gary Trudeau in the popular Doonesbury cartoon). Whether or not that attention from the press had a deleterious effect on the Newton, or it simply having been the case of the Newton being too much ahead of its time, the end result was that it took years for the product line to gain any traction with users.

In fact, it took until 1997,or so -- with the introduction of the powerful and capable MessagePad 2000 and 2100 -- for the Newton to start selling reasonably well, which was when newly returned CEO Steve Jobs pulled the plug on the division.

Go figure.

In any event, for the full story on the Newton, read Owen's Apple Confidential 2.0. It's a fascinating story that reflects almost everything that was beautiful, ugly, creative, and dysfunctional about Apple during John Sculley's reign as CEO.

Speaking of newly returned CEO Steve Jobs, it was this week in 1997 that Mr. Jobs headed his first Macworld Expo since returning to the helm of his once and future company. It was at that show that Power Computing CEO Joel Kocher led the charge on Apple's booth to help pressure Apple into continuing its Mac licensing program, an event that symbolized both the drive and futility behind the doomed cloning industry.

It was also at this show that Bill Gates loomed like a virtual Big Brother over the shoulder of CEO Steve Jobs during the Macworld keynote to announce his support of both Apple and the Mac platform. The reaction? The crowd of loyal Mac users (and you had to be a loyal Mac user to attend a Macworld in 1997) who hated and resented Microsoft for beating Apple in the market place with an inferior product booed. That's right, they booed.

If you were a Mac fan at that time, you probably understand where that sentiment came from, but really, to boo the man who was giving Apple a pledge of support in the form of cash and a software commitment in order to get the world to give Apple another chance? Steve Jobs was upset, and understandably so, and it led to him saying to the world that the platform wars were over.

In the meantime, back in Cupertino, the Newton division was busily being spun off. Wait a minute, didn't we say above that the Newton division was killed by Steve Jobs? Ah, that's all in a day in the life of an Apple division. Check below for the details.

You can find more information on many of the entries below in Owen Linzmayer's excellent Apple Confidential 2.0. The other entries can be found in TMO's archives, and we link to articles whenever we can.

August 01-07

1993: Apple introduces the first Newton personal digital assistant during Macworld Expo after six and a half years of development. Dubbed the MessagePad (US$699), the solid black plastic device measured 4.5 inches wide by 7.25 inches long and weighed under a pound. The pressure-sensitive monochrome LCD had a resolution of 240 by 336 pixels. Inside was a 20MHz ARM 610 processor supported by a 4MB ROM and 640K of RAM. A LocalTalk port allowed for connecting other serial devices, and the single PCMCIA Type II card slot could accept additional memory, an optional Wireless Messaging Card, or a modem. There was also an infrared transceiver that "beamed" data to other Newtons at 9,600 baud over a distance of one meter. All this could be powered by four 6-volt AAA alkaline batteries for up to 14 hours. The revolutionary Newton sparked the PDA market, but was ultimately doomed due to its inability to live up to the public's high expectations, especially when it came to its troublesome handwriting recognition.

1997: Coming a month after Gil Amelio was ousted as CEO, the Macworld Expo in Boston is the scene of several earth-shaking announcements. First, Steve Jobs announces the wholesale reorganization of Apple's board of directors. All but two former directors are purged, including the venerable Mike Markkula who provided the firm's initial seed money back in 1976. Jobs handpicked a new board full of friendly faces, including his best friend, Larry Ellison (chairman and CEO of Oracle).

Even more shocking than the board shakeup is the announcement that Apple has entered into patent cross-licensing and technology agreements with Microsoft. Bill Gates & Co. agrees to continue making Mac versions of its Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer products for five years. In return, Apple bundles Internet Explorer with the Mac OS as the default browser. Microsoft also gives Apple an undisclosed amount to settle patent infringement claims and buys US$150 million of preferred stock.

Meanwhile, back in California, Sandy Benett (VP of the Newton Systems Group) proudly announces, "Newton Inc. is now completely autonomous from Apple. We have our own board of directors, financial model, and business plan focused on the development of products and licensable technologies to meet the computing and communications needs of today's corporate mobile users." The new company has a new logo and is looking forward to relocating to new office space. All those plans would change a month later when Steve Jobs decides to pull the Newton subsidiary back in and create a division for the eMate 300.

2003: Customers can begin pre-ordering DVD Studio Pro 2 (US$499), Apple's powerful new application re-designed to simplify professional DVD authoring with a breakthrough user interface. New features include fully customizable templates, an innovative menu editor, timeline-based track editing, and a new world-class MPEG-2 encoder. "DVD Studio Pro 2 is the breakthrough DVD authoring application that video professionals have been asking for," says Rob Schoeben, Apple's vice president of Applications Marketing. "Regardless of whether your DVD project is simple or complex, no other professional DVD authoring tool offers the type of advanced capabilities and ease-of-use that DVD Studio Pro 2 does."