Today in Apple history: Steve Jobs flip-flops on the Newton

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Newton MessagePad 2000
The Newton MessagePad went from hero to zero overnight.
Photo: iFixit

September 4 Today in Apple history September 4, 1997: The writing is on the wall for Apple’s Newton product line as Steve Jobs tells executives at the newly spun-off company not to bother moving into their new offices.

It’s quite the turnaround for the Newton division. Only months earlier, it was being portrayed as large enough to become its own company.

Today in Apple history: Apple shows off the Newton for the first time

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The Apple Newton. Failure, or precursor of the iPhone?
Remember the MessagePad?
Photo: Blake Patterson/Wikipedia CC

May29Apple demonstrates the Newton MessagePad for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago.

Hailed by Apple CEO John Sculley as “nothing less than a revolution,” the Newton is Apple’s first major new product line since the Macintosh eight years earlier. During the demo, the press is shown how users will be able to perform tasks like ordering pizzas by moving around topping icons on a pie base, and then faxing the order straight from the device.

Delays in the project mean that the first-gen Newton doesn’t ship for more than another year, however.

Today in Apple history: Newton spins off as its own company

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Newton MessagePad 2000
Things were looking up for the Newton MessagePad. Until they weren't.
Photo: iFixit

May22May 22, 1997: Apple spins off its Newton division as its own company, to be led by former vice president of the Newton Systems Group Sandy Benett as Chief Operating Officer.

The new company’s goal is to market and sell the new MessagePad 2000 PDA, as well as develop new technologies and market existing ones. “We have a solid business plan and a strong management team in place to optimize the value of Newton technology for corporate users and take Newton technology into a new era,” Bennett says.

Instead, it turns out to be the beginning of the end …

Today in Apple history: Newton boss departs as device struggles

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The Newton MessagePad looks gigantic next to an iPhone.
The Newton MessagePad wasn't the immediate hit Apple had hoped for.
Photo: Blake Patterson/Wikipedia CC

April 19April 19, 1994: The executive in charge of Apple’s revolutionary new product line, the Newton MessagePad, parts ways with Apple.

“We can’t say whether he fell or was pushed,” says an Apple spokesman. Reports suggest that the departing Gaston Bastiaens, general manager of Apple’s Personal Interactive Electronics (PIE) division, is leaving due to his failure to make the Newton a financial success.

Today in Apple history: Apple reconsiders the Newton?

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The Newton MessagePad 2100 was the last hurrah for Apple's Newton line.
The Newton MessagePad was a product ahead of its time.
Photo: Moparx

Mar10March 10, 2004: Apple sends out a survey to select Apple customers, claiming that it is considering relaunching the Newton MessagePad.

In hindsight, it seems pretty clear that this apparent “interest” in launching another personal data assistant (PDA) was a way of doing some undercover market research for the still-in-development iPhone.

Today in Apple history: Apple bids farewell to the Newton

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The Newton MessagePad 2100 was the last hurrah for Apple's Newton line.
The MessagePad was a product ahead of its time.
Photo: Moparx

Feb27February 27, 1998: Apple discontinues work on the Newton MessagePad product line, the series of personal digital assistants it launched five years earlier.

“This decision is consistent with our strategy to focus all our software development resources on extending the Macintosh operating system,” Steve Jobs says at the time. “To realize our ambitious plans we must focus all of our efforts in one direction.”

Meet the loyal Newton fans who keep the device alive and kicking

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Keeping the light on. A group of enthusiasts who keep their Apple Newtons aglow.
Keeping the light on. A group of enthusiasts who keep their Apple Newtons aglow.
Photo: Adam Tow

Cult of Mac 2.0 bugGrant Hutchinson has never owned an iPad. He does, however, own some 15-dozen Newton devices, a few of which he uses every day to help manage tasks, a schedule and software clients.

Why would Hutchinson cling to and even rely on a clunky obsolete digital message pad, an Apple failure so big it inspired f-bomb rage in Steve Jobs and a week’s worth of damning Doonesbury comic strips?

Hutchinson is just one of a few thousand people worldwide who collect and even use Apple’s first mobile computing device, discontinued in 1998 after a number of incarnations over a rocky five-year run.