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Where great old Macs live again!

I have previously stated that I didn't think the iPhone/iPod Touch had gone far enough down the PDA route to be truly useful to the business community, despite the added Outlook integration provided by the iPhone 3G. With that in mind (and considering my old O2 XDA has gone the way of the dodo), I picked up a Newton (MessagePad 110) from eBay for the princely sum of £4 plus postage and thought I'd see if I could make use of that to help me keep my day organised.

I just thought I'd update you all on how I was getting along in my quest and the overall first impression is that the Newton is still a highly usable piece of kit. I work as a Project Manager for the Online Marketing arm of a large multinational business (let's just say if you own a car in the UK, you have probably used their products at some point, for certain) and, to be honest, I have been surprised at just how handy the Newton has been.

Firstly, I would state that it would be lovely if I could connect to the web wirelessly, but I haven't had time to buy the required add-ons and tinker with it, so I am (for the moment at least), using it offline. However, the ability to use it like a notepad to scribble reminders, to-do lists and suchlike is almost worth the price of ownership alone, as it means I don't have to lug around a pad of paper that gets messy and is a pain to find things in as I make notes and scribble down contact numbers, etc.

The "assist" function is also very useful - the ability to put all my contacts into the Newton (ok, I did it by hand, but I could have gotten my act together and beamed them from my Pismo), then just write "meet with Anthony at 12 on tuesday 15th" during a meeting is great, as it means I don't have to run off to Outlook to set up a reminder. I simply highlight the text and the Assist feature adds it to my Newton's calendar. This, combined with the fact I don't have to learn a PDA-specific alphabet, but can just use my own handwriting, has proved to be a real boon to me.

I think that, if there is to be an iNewton (for want of a better phrase), then this natural handwriting recognition (as opposed to Graffiti) and the intelligence used by the system to pick up meeting requests and other such data using the Assist feature, should be the one thing that is not lost. Personally, I also think that the slightly larger size of the Newton is also useful, as it allows for clearer text, as well as easier text entry. I think a panel device the size of four iPhones with Wifi, web browser, email and the ability to read PDFs, Office documents and view media (MP3, Video, etc) would be invaluable - it would be no bigger than an A5 notepad, after all, so it's not like it would be too big to fit into your bag or to carry and, because it's not trying to replace a laptop, it can be tailored to give good battery life - I'm running the Newton on 4 AA energiser batteries and it's lasted a fortnight already.

To be honest, I think I'll continue to use the big grey brick I have grown attached to until something that makes my life appreciably easier comes onto the market - I just hope that Apple sees the real need for a product to bridge the gap between iPhone/iPod Touch (which are inherently consumer-focused media players with add-ons) and the MacBook range. Hell, I'd bet there are a large number of people who'd love a device the size of a MacBook screen, but as thick as an iPhone, that has all the "Touch" family features, but with the added Newton bits and pieces I have described - I think it would sell like hot cakes. What do you think?

Long live Newton, say I!

Views: 13

Comment by Sean2300c on October 22, 2008 at 8:16pm
I agree- I wish Apple would make the iPod Touch (and iPhone) more PDA-like. I grew up on the Palm OS (I did not have enough money to purchase a Newton, but boy did I dream for one). I scraped together $250 for a Palm Pilot Personal back in '96 or '97. Later in high school, I had a Handspring Visor, which did a great job of organizing my assignments. I later upgraded to a Clie for the color screen and MP3 playback. At the time, I was carrying around my phone, iPod (1st gen!) and PDA, and wanted to consolidate it a little. I really appreciated the ability to sync with the contacts on my computer, along with my calendar and to-do.

As my life becomes more business oriented, I find that the organizing features of the iPod Touch/iPhone to be somewhat lacking. To-Do's do not carry over from iCal to my iPod Touch. There is no week view (this could be easily implemented by rotating the iPhone or iPod Touch while in day view!)

I used a Newton 2100 for a while as a note taking machine, it was pretty slick. Lighter than my Macbook too. I appreciate the nice calendar features on the Newton. you can make custom week calendars by selecting sequential days, or look at weekly iterations of a single day.

The digital assistant features on the iPhone/iPod Touch is adequate, but I appreciate the web browsing capability. The slick interface is helpful for browsing pages. Browsing on my Clie was a bit of work, so I saved it for free time or emergencies. I've tried browsing on the Newton, and it is an arduous task at best. It has been left behind because of the changing internet.

I stopped using my Newton for daily tasks, opting to keep it in pristine shape (I bought it used about a year ago) I think the MacBook Air should have been positioned to what you're suggesting: bigger screen than a handheld PDA, but smaller and lighter than a laptop (with a better battery life). Something that could function as an extension of a desktop or laptop system (syncing your important data, websites, email, calendar and to-do's). Who knows, maybe something like that is just around the corner?
Comment by Chance on October 23, 2008 at 5:16am
I have to admit that I am really tempted by the ModBook tablet, as I haven't got faith that Steve Jobs will release a more tablet/PDA style machine as he seems obsessed by the idea of erasing all memory of the Newton (presumably because it was a truly innovative product that was brought out by Apple when he wasn't there and without him to whip up the fanbase, it died before it got off the ground). Maybe it reminds him of Gil Amelio too much. I don't know, but I do think that if a) the Newton is still the best PDA system after being dead for 10 years, b) the iPod Touch/iPhone are the dominant new touch-screen technology and, c) OSX has natural handwriting recognition and suchlike built-in (via Inkwell), then either a tablet or an extra-large iTouch with added features would make sense - Apple is the only company that has been able to make such interfaces seem natural and even the expensive ModBook hack (based on the white MacBook) is flying off the makers' shelves. In fact, if they build one out of a 15" MacBook Pro (especially the new one), I'd buy that to replace most of my computers. As it is, my dream set up is now a ModBook with a PowerMac G5/MacPro using a Wacom Cintiq display/tablet back at the office. Doubt I'll find the cash for all that though!

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