Today in Apple history: Newton MessagePad makes its last stand

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The Newton MessagePad 2100 was the last hurrah for Apple's Newton line.
The MessagePad 2100 was the last hurrah for Apple's Newton line.
Photo: Moparx

November 7: Today in Apple history: Apple releases the Newton MessagePad 2100, the last and best iteration of the company's PDA November 7, 1997: Apple releases the Newton MessagePad 2100, the last and best iteration of the company’s early line of handheld devices.

Among its improvements over previous generations, the MessagePad 2100 packs expanded memory, enhanced speed and upgraded communications software. Nevertheless, the Newton’s fate is sealed. Steve Jobs, freshly returned to Apple, will scrap the product line within months.

The sad death of the Newton

As I wrote when marking the 1993 launch of the original MessagePad, I think this product line remains the most underrated in Apple’s history. Apple’s first attempt at a true standalone mobile device (unlike, say, the Macintosh Portable or the PowerBook, which were shrunk-down Macs), the MessagePad gave users a PDA complete with stylus and advanced handwriting recognition.

Unfortunately, it suffered from bad early word of mouth. The device came at a time when Apple found itself mired in the financial doldrums. Plus, the MessagePad lacked the necessary applications to make it a “must have” gadget. Most crucially, this pre-internet mobile device simply arrived too early. The MessagePad would have benefited enormously from internet connectivity.

MessagePad 2100 specs

With that said, the MessagePad 2100 was the best MessagePad ever released. It boasted a 162-MHz StrongARM 110 processor, 8MB of Mask ROM and 8MB of RAM (4MB of DRAM and 4MB of flash RAM).

While primitive by today’s standards, its 16-level grayscale, backlit LCD display — offering a 480-by-320 resolution with 100 dpi — was very good for its time.

The Newton’s use of artificial intelligence also greatly improved by the time the MessagePad 2100 came around. It did things like show contextual awareness of what a person was writing. The device’s oft-criticized handwriting-recognition feature also worked better than ever by this point.

As one last note of trivia, the MessagePad 2100 became the only Newton released by Newton Inc., a spinoff company from Apple. (Jobs quickly jettisoned it after he returned, too.)

Did you own a Newton MessagePad 2100? Leave your comments below.

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