Mon 8/25 Newton OS Keyboard

Apple has a long history of on-screen keyboards.1 But few have played as important a role as the multitouch keyboard in iOS. In fact, I would go so far as to say the multitouch keyboard is iOS’ most important feature. For without a reliable input mechanism, iOS would be little more than a media-centric mobile operating system, and not the leader of the app revolution it is today.

In contrast, the on-screen keyboard that came with every Newton MessagePad was never as important as the on-screen keyboard in iOS. Apple said it themselves in their Newton UI Keyboard Guild. The Newton on-screen keyboard always played second fiddle to the pen.

In the Newton OS 2.1 interface, users should be able to operate all controls and input all data solely with a pen. A user may attach a keyboard to facilitate entering text, and may use keyboard commands to operate some controls. Keyboard commands are always alternatives to operating controls by tapping with a pen; they should never be the only method of giving a command.

Still that’s not to say the Newton OS keyboard didn’t have its uses, and in some ways it is even more functional than the on-screen keyboard in iOS.


For starters when the shift isn’t tapped, all of the characters on the keyboard are represented in their lowercase state.


And the differences between option


and shift-option are clearly visible.


The Newton on-screen keyboard was never a replacement for the pen, but even without multitouch it could still be used to enter information with the tip of your finger. The context-aware number pad was a useful feature for entering phone numbers and performing quick calculations on the go.


Starting with the release of iOS 8, Apple will begin letting developers take a crack at designing their own third-party keyboards. Maybe it should come as no surprise that the Newton enabled third-party on-screen keyboards more than two decades earlier.

The FITALY One-Finger Keyboard for the Newton is a stand-alone utility usable as an ergonomic replacement for the standard QWERTY on-screen keyboard.


The Newton will always be known as that “ little scribble thing” to some, but it is hard to deny the important features Newton OS pioneered for mobile on-screen keyboards.

  1. Key Caps 1.0 is a fairly useless Desktop Accessory. It’s useless because when you press a modifier key (Shift, Command, or Option), Key Caps doesn’t change to show you the special characters associated with that modifier.