30-year retrospective of the Apple Newton

At Ars Technica, Jeremy Reiner looks back on Apple's Newton Messagepad, a groundbreaking device that failed forward.

The primary feature of the device, the handwriting recognition, did not work well out of the box. It had to be trained on a user's unique writing, and it failed to recognize many words. This flaw led to a massive backlash in public opinion, and the Newton became the go-to reference for expensive but flawed high-tech gadgets. Doonesbury author Garry Trudeau wrote a series of comic strips in which a character tried to get the Newton to recognize his handwriting, with hilarious results. The Simpsons released an episode in which Nelson Muntz told his friend to "take a note on your Newton." He wrote, "Beat Up Martin," but the Newton translated it as "Eat Up Martha."

William Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition begins with its protagonist arriving in London and experiencing the uncanny "mirror world" feeling one gets traveling between the US and UK. This gadget's a good example for me because at the same time as Apple, Amstrad—then about the biggest computer company in Europe—developed and marketed a very similar device. Mirror gadget, mirror hinky UI, mirror 1990s corporate decline.