Newton MessagePad was a preview of the enterprise iPhone

By some accounts, businesses are snatching up Macs more and more these days. 9 to 5 Mac says the use is quadrupling, while some say the increase isn’t so great. But for the subject to even be noticed, something has to happen.

In fact, something is happening: Apple, whether directly or indirectly, is telling the enterprise market, “we’re not so bad.”

Apple tried this years ago. The Apple III was meant to be a business model PC. So was the Lisa. But their cost or glitches, combined with IBM’s early dominance, relegated Apples to the “creative” and education markets. Hippies love Macs. Suit-and-tie professionals? Not so much. At least that was the perception.

Then Apple created a tool that was tailor-made for business: the Newton Messagepad.

The Newton seemed born to tackle business needs: e-mail, fax, calendars and contacts, infra-red communication between devices, third-party software support. For the professional on the go, the Newton was portable, rugged, and easy to navigate. At the time, all this stuff was pretty revolutionary.

Apple marketed the Newton to business professionals:

“Go through life with less baggage” the ads said. Apple’s press releases at the time promoted the MP2000 as a “business mobile computer” – meaning you could use it with biz-centric Lotus, Claris, and Microsoft apps along with the standard e-mail, fax, and schedule-management apps. The eMate was a micro-laptop that could last for weeks on one set of batteries. Apple was catering to the road warrior professional.

Today, the Newton seems like an experiment to get the basic business and communication needs figured out. How do you do e-mail and web surfing on a portable device? How do you sync your Mac to your PDA?

Now the basics are worked out, Apple is back, and they’ve aimed their iPhone SDK at enterprise needs. Apple figured out the e-mail and syncing basics, and then added its trademarked beauty, elegance, and fantastic user interface to the product. The iPhone and iPod Touch does everything the Newton did, but it looks and feels better. iPhone takes the basic business ideas from Newton and polishes and perfects them.

Plus, the App Store has delivered an improved application delivery mechanism. With the Newton, you had to either buy an application (box, discs, and all), or search on the web for it. Now, all you have to do is click “Buy.” The developers benefit because of the wider audience the App Store and iTunes draws. The Newton had its own development community, but I imagine things are a bit easier these days.

This ease-of-use spreads to the operating system. Yes, the Newton was intuitive, but its OS was much simpler than the Macintosh. It had to be – it was portable and stylus-based, and it lacked the processing power to run the full Mac OS. The iPhone is an OS X machine, and much of the Mac look and feel is there.

Apple also learned that pricing is important. At $1,000, the MP2100 was in reach of only the die-hard Newton fan. Corporations could feel the strain of a few Newtons in their budget.

The iPhone? At $200 a pop, it’s accessible to everyone. Everyone. Not just businesses. Now, buying an enterprise-level portable computer is as affordable as buying a piece of enterprise-level software. The iPhone has the power of Apple’s brand and marketing and iPod success behind it this time around, too – but price has to be part of the stellar sales. The Newton’s sales numbers merely creeped along.

Think about it this way: Can you imagine a $1,000-price-point iPhone?

After the Newton was cancelled, what was there? Mac-fanatic business people could still use their PowerBooks, or they could switch to the rising Palm for their go-to PDA gadgets. Apple wished them lots of luck.

It’s not until now, with the rise of the iPhone and Apple’s embrace of enterprise technologies, that we can see – at minimum – an effort to woo the biz crowd. Some have been skeptical because of the lack of security features, but for the first time in a while, Apple has created a device that appeals to the enterprise mind.

[Thanks to Mac Mothership for the ad images.]

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  1. I had the first edition of the Newton. It really was a useful device even though it was pre-wireless, and I had to use a dial-up connection. It was my first vacation spoiler PDA as it kept me in contact with the office.

    In some respects it seemed to be more business useful than my iPod Touch. Of course the Newton didn’t have music, full Internet access, and video to distract me.

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