For a very long time, I was a hardcore Apple Newton user. How hardcore? Well, for about 5 years it was my principle computer. Don’t roll your eyes! Seriously, it was. I used it for everything. I took all my notes with it, used the external keyboard to type up documents and e-mail, managed my schedule and contacts, and, with the introduction of the MessagePad 2000, used it for most of my web browsing. My desktop computers were always simply a backup and data conduit for my Newtons. I did not even own a laptop, my Newton could do all that I needed in a mobile situation.
There were many reasons for this. One of them being that the technology was, for me, the perfect balance of portability and features. It gave me all of the features and applications I really needed 99% of the time and, more importantly, nothing I didn’t. Being about the size of a small paperback book, it slipped very easily into a small bag, cargo pocket, or larger jacket pocket easily. The handwriting recognition was always very good for me and got increasingly more accurate with each new model.
It turned me into a huge proponent of the idea that handheld, pocketable devices were the future of computing. My friend Michael, an ardent Palm Pilot user, and I even produced a monthly, handheld device-format only, digital magazine. This was at a time when the Palm Pilot and various WinCE devices were catching steam, the Newton MessagePad was at the top of that heap, and it seemed as if this was the direction the world was going. Mobile Phones were something that either came with a car attached or were near the size of a small vehicle anyway – they were hardly what one would call portable. I felt the paradigm was shifting in the computer industry and handhelds would be ubiquitous in a few years time.
Of course, at the time I was wrong. Maybe not wrong, but about 10 years too early. Mobile phones got smaller and more functional, laptop sales increased as their portability and power improved, and handhelds never really caught on. Palm pilots grew up and became phones. WinCE grew up and became Windows Mobile. Then there was the Newton…
Strangely enough, Steve Jobs hated the very idea of the Newton to begin with and made a point of making it the first project he killed on his return to Apple. He stated in several interviews that PDA’s were “stupid” and that people would never use a computer that did not have a keyboard. The Newton was also the pet project of his rival, John Scully, who pushed Jobs out of Apple in a now famous power struggle. Needless to say, the Newton did not stand a chance. Most of its innovative technology was locked away in a Cupertino basement destined never to see light again.
I finally broke down, joined the cool kids, and got an iPhone 3G a few weeks ago. I held out for a long time. I even wrote about my holding out here on The Journal. First waiting for the 3G version that I knew would be inevitable and then not wanting to pull the trigger on AT&T’s confiscatory iPhone rate plans. Fact is, so many of my consulting business clients were getting one, and had questions about them, that I felt compelled to finally break down and do it.
My first thought: I’ll be damned if it’s not, at it’s heart, the Newton Message Pad. If the Newton were left on the market to organically grow along its assumed path, the iPhone is exactly what it would have become; only it would have had a stylus and perfect handwriting recognition (which it still easily could, but I will save that for a future post). It is pretty much everything that Steve Jobs said he hated about handheld devices.
My second thought, after a few weeks of use: This finally shifts the paradigm. Not just for handheld device hopefuls like myself but for almost everyone who is willing to leave their laptops at home (or not buy one at all) and trust the device. The iPhone is capable of every conceivable task I can see myself needing to do while mobile. It is fast, has a great high contrast screen, the keyboard is highly accurate once you learn to trust it, it has a wealth of applications, and it’s portability makes it able to be ever-present. On a recent trip, I took my laptop and found myself, after the fact, wondering why I even bothered. I mostly used my iPhone and, the few times I used my laptop I could have just as easily used the iPhone.
It has shifted my personal paradigm so much that now, with every desktop or web application, my choice is measured mainly by how it interfaces with my iPhone. It is largely the reason I am moving my digital notetaking from Yojimbo to Evernote. One has an iPhone application that syncs data with the desktop and “the cloud”, the other does not. Having the ability to capture short notes and thoughts or having reference material with me anytime, anywhere, is now the standard by which everything else is measured. The iPhone is a game changer in every sense of the phrase.