A Newton MessagePad, the grandfather of all PDAs, is a funny thing to carry around with you when most people are sliding super slim, constantly connected, application-rich smartphones into their pockets. Compared to the iPhone a Newton MessagePad looks like a green brick, and I have been accused more than once of stealing the rubberized signature pad from a UPS delivery man. Despite what my Newton lacks in portability, connectivity, and applications it makes up for with a unique set of features no other mobile computer can match.
MessagePads have a battery life that can be measured in weeks and not days. While most modern smartphones struggle to make it through a twenty four hour period, my Newton keeps on ticking due to an energy conscious design that continues to impress more than ten years later. Best of all, when my Newton runs out of juice a simple AA battery swap will get it back on task while a modern smartphone must wait three to four hours before going back to work. Sure my Newton might not be able to do as much as a smartphone in the same amount of time, but when it comes to writing and note taking my Newton’s closest competitor is the longevity of a pad of paper — not your smartphone.
Randy Murray makes the argument that
Want to start a new note? Just draw a horizontal line across the page. Add bullet items and hierarchy to your thoughts the same way you would on paper. Because you are concentrating on the speaker and not your Newton note taking comes naturally. And because your Newton is a computer those notes, bullets, and hierarchy can be reorganized as many times as you like without crossing out lines or throwing away paper.
Searching through your Newton is far easier than searching through a Moleskine. And when you are done no transcription necessary. Just print, email, fax, or sync your notes back to your computer. Show your client what you captured from the meeting before leaving the room. A Newton allows you to preserve the natural habits of note taking, without the adapting to technology, or the transcription required for traditional handwriting.
Document Centric Workflow
When you turn on a smartphone you are presented with a grid of applications that represent tasks your phone can do. When you turn on a Newton you are presented with your content. On a Newton their is no workflow to follow to get back to your writing because you are already there. There is no file system past a simple index. No open or save dialog boxes because what you write and read is always in front of you. A pad of paper never gets in your way because there is nothing between you and the content. In this respect a Newton is the same as a pad of paper.
If you have ever created something on an iOS device you know your data is stored in the app you created it in. You know how to access it by tapping on the app, but do you know how to get it out and share it with other applications or the rest of the world? On the iPhone sharing your creations is different for every single application. Not only the methods of sharing, but the process of sharing as well. On the Newton everything is sharable, and shared in the same way. You can fax, email, beam, and print anything from the routing button. As new methods of sharing are installed they too are added to the routing button. Because the process is the same for any type of data you create, sharing on the Newton is almost as easy as ripping a page from your notepad and handing it across the table — and the best part is you get to keep the original.
The only reason the Newton is still with us today is because it has managed to keep up with the times. Introduced before the popularity of the World Wide Web, the Newton community has developed both a web browser and and an email client for its users. No small feat for a device that was designed without the ability to network past infrared beaming and analog faxing. Later MessagePads have even gained the ability to print via IP, connect to Wifi hotspots, beam using Bluetooth, and in limited cases communicate through cellular modems. These achievements might sound like old news compared to modern smartphones, but the real message behind a Newton’s expandability is the community that brought it this far.
The Newton is a great note taking device with a long lasting battery life, that puts your content first and allows you to share it with the world. Those features alone might sell you on the platform, but the Newton is no wonder device. It is over ten years old, and far past its prime. The reason I still carry a Newton is because of the community that makes the Newton great. NewtonTalk is a mailing list of passionate users that embrace a Newton’s philosophy of putting your data first while expanding the platforms capabilities for another generation of users to discover and enjoy.
If it wasn’t for the Newton’s community I would never have found the Newton in the first place. I still carry my Newton not only for what a Newton does for me, but what I can do for the community of Newton users that embrace technology in the same way I do. Egg Freckles is my way of celebrating the Newton’s unique capabilities, and the community of users that are responsible for pushing the Newton forward.
First published on February 4th, 2011.