Harry McCracken over at TIME Techland has written a beautiful piece about a 20-year-old piece of technology that was ahead of its time — Apple’s Newton MessagePad. As he notes, it was twenty years ago this week that Apple CEO John Sculley introduced the Newton to the public at a CES show in Chicago. The device wouldn’t actually ship until August of 1993 and would fly for only five years before being axed by Steve Jobs upon his triumphant return to Apple, but it made its mark on the world and on Harry McCracken.
He never had an opportunity to write a review of the Newton, so he purchased a “new in box” first-generation Newton MessagePad H1000 off of eBay and set to work giving this piece of nostalgic technology a fair review.
McCracken found a number of things interesting about his time with the Newton. First, most people ignored the device when he pulled it out in a meeting or on an airplane, dismissing it as just another tablet. Next, he points out that the screen on the original Newton MessagePad was “terrible”. Apple did improve it somewhat with a backlight later, but it remained pretty crappy by today’s standards.
When it came to battery life, McCracken was impressed. As he notes, “Back in the 1990s, people squawked that the MessagePad H1000 drained its four AAA batteries too quickly. I found, however, that I could go for a couple of weeks on a set. In an age of smartphones that conk out after less than one day, that was more than enough to keep me happy.”
I won’t spoil the day for you by reiterating all of McCracken’s post, but instead invite you to read his well-written words on the subject. The post was enough to make me dig out my still-working MessagePad 2100, plug it in (the battery pack no longer holds a charge), and take the title shot above comparing my vastly more powerful iPhone 4S to the last of the Newtons.
If you have a little bit of time and want a nice trip down memory lane, I also suggest watching the video below, which is from a video that shipped (on a VHS tape) with the original device.