From Pen Computing Magazine #25, December 1998

Newton Notes

Imagine a world that revolves around you

©Copyright 1998 David MacNeill

If you are looking for the latest news on the world of Newton, read no further, log on to the Web, and knock yourself out. If you are interested in a bit of perspective, read on.

Of the many things I miss about the early days of Newton, I’d have to say NewtonMail ranks high. It was the only email system I’ve ever used with a handheld computer that worked, flawlessly, every time. Modern Windows CE devices do a credible job, and will do even better when upgraded to H/PC Pro ROMs due to the much-improved IMAP email client. For sheer simplicity and reliability, though, NewtonMail ruled. You could send and receive Newton packages (applications) or any other Newton data type and it would be received without any fuss on another Newton device. We routinely sent each other appointments, tasks, and name cards. The service, as well as the OS, were optimized for the low bandwidth available at the time.

It all worked beautifully. When eWorld was getting ready to launch, we Newton pioneers had been using the NewtonMail service for several months. When I received my official beta tester T-shirt from Apple, the eWorld logo across the back said, "Imagine a world that revolves around you." My girlfriend commented that wouldn’t be too hard for me to do. I’d like to think it was because I had been pampered by months of Newton use, day in and day out.

NewtonMail was a sub-service of eWorld, Apple’s Mac-only version of America Online. Early Newtons used cigarette pack-size 2400 baud modems which were self-powered by two AA batteries. These things would run practically forever, and had the advantage of not occupying the single PC Card slot we had in those days. Apple did eventually ship an X-Jack equipped PC Card version of this modem, but I mostly saw the external version.
I miss NewtonMail.

MessagePad 2000/2100 owners, berate me if you must: compared to the original MessagePad, the MP2K series machines are butt-ugly. They are boxy and utilitarian, whereas the original was rounded and elegantly inviting. To hold one was to write on one; you simply couldn’t help yourself. Some complained in those early days about the width of the device, claiming it was hard to hold if one had small hands. Most found ways to accommodate, holding it with fingers behind the device instead of wrapped around it like a baseball.

Believe it or not, you could actually slip the thing into a large pocket or lab coat. It was mostly screen, which was the most contrasty and easy-to-read display of its day. You could read it in your car at night by holding it up to catch the headlights of cars behind you. Much to the amusement of my fellow patrons, I regularly wrote long pieces on my MessagePad in Bonn Lair, my local pub at the time. Dark as it was in there, I could always find enough ambient incandescent light to work comfortably. I also found out that the MessagePad is apparently beer-proof.

When I need to remember those days, I pull out my original, system 1.0 MessagePad, load up four AAA cells, and noodle around with it for awhile. It always remembers my handwriting.

Early applications
In the first few months after the launch of any new computer platform, every piece of new software was a cause for celebration. No matter how useful it was, you simply had to have it, right now. When you are just discovering the possibilities of the device, any piece of software could lead you into the mind of the programmer to reveal unforeseen advantages.

There was also a sense of community among these early adopters, since everyone was using the same seven or eight applications. We always had plenty to talk about, plenty to share. I don’t think we can thank those early developers enough for all the great things they did for Newton. I miss going to shows, conferences, and devcons to see the same hundred or so people comprising the Newton cognoscenti at the time. When I see them now it’s usually at a PalmPilot or Windows CE gathering. It is always good to see them, but I don’t think any of them would deny that it was different back in 1993.

MessagePad 2500
In a different set of circumstances, this column could have been written on an exciting new Newton device instead of my trusty PowerBook G3/292. What would a MessagePad 2500 look like? It’s safe to assume it would be of similar proportion to the MP2100, only slimmer, more slate-like, due to the elimination of AA cells in favor of a wide and flat lithium-ion pack. It would contain version 3.0 of the Newton OS, and would sport a 64,000 color display for almost photorealistic images. Integrated wireless communication options would slide into a dedicated bay, with the screen cover serving as the antenna. It would be translucent green, like the eMate, with a subtle glow from the backlight giving the device an unearthly aspect.

Performance would be equally unearthly due to its new 1.5v highly integrated Intel StrongARM SA-1100 microprocessor running at 200MHz. You can watch QuickTime clips on your MP2500 without skipping a frame. The integrated IBM MicroDrive hard disk would provide 500MB of storage, while the fast IR and USB ports make it easy to get the data in and out.

Newton Connection Utilities Pro would make other synch tools look primitive. Simply bringing the MP2500 in proximity to your desktop or notebook would transfer your most important information--appointments, tasks, names, notes--invisibly. Apple would supply a self-powered, inexpensive fast IR transceiver for both Macs and Windows PCs so slim and light that it would essentially disappear into the woodwork. Wireless options would allow the same "prioritized synchronization" via moderate bandwidth wireless IP carriers. You simply always have the latest information, fully transactioned for total reliability.

I miss the MessagePad 2500.

-David MacNeill is executive editor of Pen Computing Magazine and editor-in-chief of Digital Camera Magazine. Newton Notes™ has been in continuous publication since the release of the Newton MessagePad in 1993.