From Mac Monthly, December 15, 1993

Newton Notes

Newton Platform Development Conference

©Copyright 1993 David MacNeill

Over a thousand software developers converged at the Santa Clara Convention Center for the first Newton Platform Development Conference on December 7--8. Judging from the strong attendance and the constant buzz of excitement, the conference was good for everyone involved.

The Apple sponsored conference featured both beginning and advanced workshop tracks on NewtonScript, the powerful object-oriented language Apple created for Newton development. A second seminar track showcased a variety of international market opportunities for developers of software and hardware for the Newton platform. The sessions drew broadly on examples, case studies, applications, and current business models of Newton Platform partners and developers.

Apple CEO Michael Spindler and Apple PIE chief Gaston Bastiens delivered the keynote addresses, augmented with short segments by various captains of industry from Motorola, Sharp, and Matsushita (Panasonic). These three companies, along with an international cadre of communications providers and manufacturing firms, are committed to the Newton platform for their products and services.

"Newton is more about communication than about computing," said Spindler at the press conference. Bastiens announced that all communications protocols will be supported on the Newton platform.

Opportunity Taps
Since I attended the conference wearing my intrepid reporter’s hat, Apple had me attend the International Newton Marketplace track. I gleaned a few interesting bits:

Developers and entrepreneurs take heed: Newton Green is not just the color of your favorite PDA. There are terrific opportunities in 1994--1995 for those who can deliver Newton products and services that leverage off Motorola’s nascent two--way wireless modem technology. This stuff is for real.

Content software developers should be aware that Newton is a perfect delivery vehicle for reaching mobile consumers. When hardware is cheap, content is king. Take a lesson in recent history: VCR sales closely paralleled sales of cellular phones and camcorders until the appearance of pre-recorded tape providers, whereupon VCR sales numbers and market penetration spiked off the chart. This of course fueled equally explosive growth in pre-recorded tapes.

Near--Future Newtons
Several new Newton hardware and form-factor designs were discussed. Akia Fujio of Matsushita announced the development of a Newton CD-ROM. He also announced a Global Positioning System (GPS) PC card for Newton. (I almost fell off my chair when he said GPS; as a liveaboard sailor, a GPS--equipped Newton would be incredibly valuable to me.)

Apple will soon release a revised version of the MessagePad. It will be slightly smaller, have more built-in memory, and have improved ROMs. It will also sell for about a hundred bucks less than the current model. Look for it in March.

Apple is also preparing a clipboard-sized Newton targeted at corporate users. It will have a 640x480 pixel monochrome passive-matrix screen and will weigh in at about three pounds. Improved infrared will allow the slate to connect to IR AppleTalk networks. Expect it to ship in October.

Motorola and Apple have teamed up to make a handheld cellular phone with a Newton screen built-in. When I told my fiancée about this device she said "I want one NOW!" Unfortunately, she’ll just have to wait until the August release.

Cool Apps
At the risk of sounding like a total marketing weasel, there are some absolutely fantastic Newton apps coming to market soon. Here are a few capsule reviews of my faves:

MobileCalc from MobileSoft is powerful spreadsheet designed for pen input. Users of conventional computer spreadsheets will love this one. MobileSoft also will release MobileMath, a new kind of app that isn’t an app at all in the traditional sense. MobileMath adds a slew of calculation-oriented verbs to Newton’s Intelligent Assistant. Just jot down some numbers on the screen, write a verb like "add" or "margin", hit the Assist button, and the result pops out for you to drag to the note pad. Very cool product. MobileCalc 1.01 is shipping now, and MobileMath will ship in January. Contact MobileSoft at 408-376-0497.

Ease Technologies brings us FilePad, which puts Claris FileMaker-like database design capabilities into your Newton. FilePad allows the creation of custom designed databases which are stored as "file cabinets" on a PC card in your Newton. You can create pop-up menus, buttons, and check boxes to simplify data entry. I believe FilePad has the potential to be a real breakthrough application by putting an easily programmed dashboard on Newton’s native object-oriented database. FilePad will ship in Q1 ’94. Contact Ease Technologies at 301-854-0010.

Ex Machina, in addition to having the coolest company name at the show, is releasing PocketCall, a robust, extensible communications program that’s sure to be a winner. PocketCall allows a Newton user to respond to queries from a host computer by simply handwriting text on the screen, or by popping up an on-screen keyboard. To speed online sessions, it provides instant access to pre-stored words and phrases, allowing interaction with online services without any direct text entry. PocketCall also supports installable modules called PocketPacks, which will be provided by online information services to automate and simplify access. Contact Ex Machina at 718-965-0309.

NewtonMail Update
It’s official: NewtonMail will go into full public release in January. When you sign up, drop me a note at address davemacneill.

Dave MacNeill is a teacher, consultant, and marketing director for the IconoClass, a Macintosh, Windows, and Newton training center in Sacramento, 916-443-2527. His Internet address is