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Former Apple CEO Says Newton “Scribble Thing” Was 15 Years Ahead of Its Time

Published on January 13, 2012
by John Paczkowski

When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he famously killed off a number of products for the good of the company. Top among them was the Newton, for which Jobs had a profound distaste.

Asked what he thought of the device during a Q&A at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference that year, Jobs slagged it as worthless, in a remark oddly prefigurative of the iPhone (see video below).

“I tried a Newton,” he said. “I bought one of the early ones; I thought it was a piece of junk, I threw it away. I bought one of the Motorola Envoys; I thought it was a piece of junk after three months and threw it away. … Here’s my problem [with these devices]: My problem is, to me, the high-order bit is connectivity. The high-order bit is being in touch, connected to a network. … What I want is this little thing that I carry around with me that’s got a keyboard on it — because to do email you need a keyboard. … And it needs to be connected to the Net. So if somebody would just make a little thing where you’re connected to the Net at all times, and you’ve got a little keyboard. God, I’d love to buy one. But I don’t see one of those out there. And I don’t care what OS it has in it. So, you know, I don’t want a little scribble thing. But that’s just me.”

Jobs’s issue with the Newton then was that it failed as a product — it wasn’t useful. But to former Apple CEO John Sculley, under whose watch the Newton was developed, the reason the device didn’t succeed was because it was too far ahead of its time, “too ambitious.”

“Newton was probably 15 years too early,” Sculley told the BBC. “I’m not a technologist. I didn’t have the experience to make that judgment, but we were, I think, right on many of the concepts. The product clearly failed in terms of taking on such an ambitious goal. I think, in hindsight, there is a lot of good legacy there with the Newton. Even if the product itself never survived, the technology did.”

Specifically, ARM, which is still in wide use today.

Said Scully, “ARM not only was the key technology behind the Newton, but it eventually became the key technology behind every mobile device in the world today, including the iPhone and the iPad.”

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