All in all, it’s fun experiment: take a tech journalist who has no direct experience with the Newton, and have him use it. Even better, McCracken’s MessagePad was practically new out of the box.
This section on battery life caught my eye:
20/20 hindsight may make the MessagePad’s screen look worse than it seemed in 1993; its battery life, however, benefits from a couple of decades of diminished expectations. Back in the 1990s, people squawked that the MessagePad H1000 drained its four AAA batteries too quickly. I found, however, that I could go for a couple of weeks on a set. In an age of smartphones that conk out after less than one day, that was more than enough to keep me happy.
Isn’t it something how our expectations have changed?
The bottom line on the Newton Message Pad is that Apple promised too much and failed to deliver a useful device for everyday executive chores. On the other hand, the Message Pad practically hums with untapped potential, and six months (or moths) to a year from now it is likely to be a popular executive tool.
…When it was first described publicly more than a year ago by Apple’s chairman, John Sculley, the Newton was said to be a combination pen-based computer, personal organizer, fax and data communicator, and wireless messaging system.The Newton is indeed full of promise, but that’s not the same thing as fulfilling the promises.
I’m just trying to think of a situation where today’s Apple would release a product that had more “untapped potential” than actual usefulness.
The original iPhone, maybe? It didn’t have apps, cut/copy/paste, or any of the things we all take for granted now. But then we didn’t have to worry about faulty handwriting recognition. Today, it seems a new Apple product must have an immediate pick-up-and-use aura. Potential comes through iteration, sure, but you’re not left holding a device that inspires a yawn – or a question of its practical aspects.
The opposite argument is that apps didn’t come to the iPhone until a year after its launch, and then the whole world seemed to open up. With the Newton, it took until at least Newton OS 2.0 to get things in motion.
The kicker of Peter Lewis’s review comes at the end: “The possibilities are grand. For example, one can imagine cellular phone circuitry being shrunk to fit in the Message Pad’s credit-card-sized PCMCIA slot, or a Newton being shrunk to fit in a cellular phone.”
At times, Steven Levy’s tone in The Perfect Thing: How the iPod shuffles commerce, culture, and coolness winks and nods at the reader as many Apple-inspired blogs do: he’s one of us, and he’s intimate with the subject.
Levy’s voice makes The Perfect Thing a breeze to read, and not just because of the book’s modest lenght. In revealing the software, hardware, and philosophical origins of the most popular MP3 player on the planet, he easily makes the case for the iPod’s overwhelming popularity.