In the several years after the Apple Newton came out, the general consensus was that it had been a failure. Looking back with the hindsight of several decades, we can now see just how groundbreaking the Newton project was. Many features of modern PDAs (including the term “PDA” itself) began with Apple’s daring experiment.
By any standards, the iPhone and its later cousin the iPad have been wild successes. It is tempting to oversimplify, and think of the story as a failure followed by a success.
But I think the truth is more interesting. The iPhone and iPad are very much the beneficiaries of Bill Buxton’s “Long Nose of Innovation”. The fact that Apple had jumped feet-first into the mobile computer platform so early, going wide with a technology dangerously ahead of its time, had the effect of sensitizing Apple to the issues of what kind of PDA can be successfully brought to market, and what cannot.
In many ways, the iPhone and iPad can trace their lineage all the way back to the gestation of the Newton. There is a kind of axis that runs straight through the decades, from 1987 — when the Newton project first began — to 2014 and beyond.
It would be interesting to try to guess what are today’s Newtons — overambitious products so far ahead of their time that they won’t be truly successful for another quarter century.