Apple shocked the gadget world in 2005 when it scrapped its best-selling iPod, the iPod mini, for an altogether different product, the iPod nano. Was ‘nano’ so much a better name than ‘mini’ that the successful brand had to be squashed immediately in favour of the new one? Apple probably thought ‘mini’ just not small enough to describe the new miniscule – I mean nanoscule – MP3 player. The nano was smaller than the mini – although it was only 0.1 inch shorter.
Just as Apple had used the ‘mini’ name outside of the iPod stable, for its boxy little Mac desktop, everyone expected there to be ‘nano’ everything else: a Mac nano, iPhone nano, MacBook nano, etc. But none ever appeared, proving either that Apple isn’t so fond of the name after its initial burst of excitement, or it can’t shrink its other products by 0.1 inch.
In November 1984 Apple spent more than US$2.5 million to buy all 39 advertising pages in a special post-election edition of Newsweek magazine. It included stuff that Apple still believes in, such as “Macintosh was designed by people who know everything there is to know about computers, so that you wouldn’t have to. It doesn’t come with volumes of instruction manuals to explain how to use it, because it comes with 200-person-years of built-in software that make Macintosh easier to use.”
14 years before the iPhone and 17 before the iPad Apple threatened to turn computing on its head by releasing a handheld PC that you could fit in your pocket – if you had really big pockets.
The first real mass-market PDA was made by British company Psion but it was Apple CEO John Sculley who actually termed the phrase “Personal Digital Assistant” to describe the device, which spawned a range of non-Apple PDAs such as the Palm Pilot.
The big thing about this not-so-little thing was its handwriting recognition, which unfortunately was on launch about as accurate as a 10-day weather forecast. It effectively damned the device from Day One – even when it was immeasurably improved in later versions that used Apple ‘Rosetta’ technology rather than the original Russian-based ‘Calligrapher’ software.
On its debut the handwriting recognition dictionary contained just 10,000 words – about the same as a bookish six-year-old child.
Like the iPhone and iPad that followed it so many years later the Newton MessagePad was cute – it could be rotated in portrait and landscape modes. You wrote on the screen with a little stylus, and you could scratch out words to be deleted and circle text to be selected.
The eMate also used the Newton operating system, and there were reportedly plans to launch a colour bMate aimed at the business market.
The Newton suffered not just from its initial reception but also from its bulk – in direct contrast to today’s Apple products the Newton got bigger and heavier with each new release [Newton model dimensions and tech specs]. Palm’s Pilot PDA was a hit because you really could fit it in your pocket. Apple’s planned Newton LC mini MessagePad never saw the light of day, or the dark linty inside of a fanboy's pocket.
Disgruntled Newton engineers stormed off in a huff for Palm, and two set up a small company called Pixo that Apple later bought to use for its operating system for the iPod.
On his return to Apple in 1997 Steve Jobs derided the Newton as “a little scribble thing”, and killed it off much to the dismay of all the third-party giant pocket manufacturers.
In 1997 Apple CEO Gil Amelio decided to spin off the Newton division into its own wholly owned subsidiary of Apple Computer. This is either a good thing (“Go on, bright new thing, here’s some cash. Go out and do great things!”) or something more ominous (“Get that crappy thing out of my sight so I won’t see its crying face when we kill it”).
The Apple logo-shaped moulding on the face of the MessagePad 2000 was changed to a circular indentation that was intended to hold the Newton Inc logo. But by the time the units arrived from Japanese maker Sharp Jobs had pulled Newton back into Apple. Trainspotters' fact: Pen Computing reports that the final MP2100 cases have an Apple logo painted in the “wrong-looking round spot”, while the Newton logo and the words "Newton Technology" are silk-screened in the upper left face of the unit.
A suite of business apps for the Newton, including a word processor and an Excel-compatible spreadsheet called QuickFigure Pro, developed by PelicanWare.
When Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple after his 1985 attempted coup against one-time pal and Apple ally John Sculley he was just 30 years old. He was a multi-millionaire and could have retired to spend more time removing furniture from his minimalist mansion. But Steve’s not like that. Even when he has an apparently terminal disease he just takes a temporary break from work. And he had a point to prove. And prove that point he did – except not quite as quickly as he’d have liked.
After he’d cleared his desk of tech knick-knacks, bow ties and photos of Woz, Jobs rounded up his best people from the Mac division and informed Apple that he was starting a new computer company aimed at the higher-education market. In a typical example of brand minimalism and a little pointer to his later obsession with lower-case vowels he named his next company NeXT.
He had recently met chemistry Nobel winner Paul Berg who had blubbed about the need for a super educational computer that could boast a whole megabyte of RAM. Jobs foresaw a computer that was powerful enough to research recombinant DNA but cheap enough to allow students to play Pong in their dorms.
Apple was miffed at Jobs taking away its best people – even though history was to prove that it had got rid of its own best person – and it tried to sue NeXT for “nefarious schemes”. Jobs snapped back: "It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn't compete with six people in blue jeans."
The NeXT offices were situated in a glass and concrete building that featured a staircase designed by Louvre glass pyramid architect I. M. Pei. It had simple hardwood flooring and large worktables where the NeXT PCs would be assembled. Sound familiar? It probably had a Genius Bar, as well.
Of course Jobs knows nano about making cheap computers. The first retail NeXT computer did sell for less than $10,000 – by a whole $1. Jobs had spent a fortune on the NeXT logo and on the computer’s design – a one-foot magnesium cube.
When reviewers of the NeXTcube suggested that it was late, Jobs hit back in classic Steve style: "Late? This computer is five years ahead of its time!"
Although it did have its notable successes – Tim Berners-Lee used a NeXT computer to create the first web browser and server – the hardware just didn’t catch on and was scrapped in 1993.
NeXT had little more success with its software arm, which created an object-oriented, multi-tasking operating system, until a beleaguered Apple begged Steve to sell its NeXTSTEP as the basis of its, er, NeXT-generation OS.
Steve flogged an on-its-kness NeXT to his old company for $429m and 1.5 million shares in Apple, and quickly ousted floundering CEO Gil Amelio to take back control of the company. NeXTStep became Mac OS X, and the rest is history.
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