Launched in 1993, Apple’s Newton MessagePad was the first ‘Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)’, a hand-held computer designed for organisational and communication tasks.
The paperback-sized device had a black-and-white screen on which users entered text by writing with a stylus.
Too small to replace a laptop and too big for most pockets, the Newton embodied exciting ideas but little practicality.
Handwriting recognition originally worked badly and even after major improvements it didn’t catch on in the way tiny phone keyboards later would.
It also took between two weeks and a frustrating two months for the handwriting recognition software to “learn”, during which time users were forced to constantly correct themselves in an exercise in sadomasochism that grew old very quickly.
The bold dream of wireless connectivity was dashed when Apple failed to persuade any major telecommunications company to roll out the infrastructure needed to support it – at its launch, the Newton’s communications options were limited to wireless connections to another MessagePad less than a metre away.
After five years and several models, the Newton MessagePad was discontinued, but it helped pave the way for touchscreen tablets and smartphones, not least by using chips from British manufacturer ARM (Advanced Risc Machines) whose technology is still the basis of today’s iPads and iPhones.