Archive for June 13, 2022

Monday, June 13, 2022

Remembering Apple’s Newton, 30 Years On

Jeremy Reimer (Hacker News):

Apple engineer Steve Sakoman was bored after launching the Macintosh II. He wanted to make a portable device like the pioneering PC laptop he had built for Hewlett-Packard. To stop him from leaving Apple, vice president Jean-Louis Gassee let him set up a “skunkworks” project to pursue his dream. But he didn’t want to just make a Macintosh laptop. He had a vision of a tablet-like device, the size of a folded A4 sheet of paper, that could read people’s handwriting.


At the same time, another “top secret” Apple division was also working on unique portable devices and software under the code name “Pocket Crystal.” Larry Tesler was asked to evaluate this team to see if it might be able to replace the Newton. Instead, he suggested spinning out Pocket Crystal into a separate company (which became General Magic) and refocusing the Newton project with new hardware and new leadership.


Apple found a small British computer company, Acorn, which had improbably created a new CPU design that offered decent speeds at impossibly low power requirements. Apple invested $3 million into the company and helped design a new revision of its chip, the Acorn RISC Machine.


Steve Capps described the development environment as being incredibly advanced. “The whole architecture that we cooked up had no difference between data in the ‘file system’ and in memory (and for Newton, in the ROM that held the code),” he said in an interview with Ars.


NewtonScript influenced the creation of JavaScript, with its prototype-based object model, dynamic variable typing, garbage-collected memory, and fast interpreted design.

This last part seems to be incorrect, but the article is worth reading.

Jack Wellborn:

PDAs never achieved ubiquity. Instead, they were a necessary stepping stone toward smartphones, which themselves weren’t ubiquitous until iPhone and Android. I think VR has a bright future, but I don’t see VR as it exists today being the thing that becomes the next smartphone. Rather, I see VR as another necessary and very exciting stepping stone toward something ubiquitous that is yet to come.