The write stuff

E-mail: Apple's first Newton won poor marks for handwriting. Will its new Messagepad work better? By Cliff Joseph

Few computer products can have suffered as much ridicule in recent years as Apple's Newton. Intended as a kind of electronic Filofax and notebook, Apple hoped that the Newton would create a new category of computer product which it referred to as the "personal digital assistant".

The key feature that was supposed to make the Newton different from other hand-held computers was its handwriting recognition. Instead of using a keyboard, the Newton had a small stylus that allowed the user to write on to its screen. It would then translate your writing into a text file that it could store in its memory.

Unfortunately, the handwriting recognition in the first Newton was so unreliable that it was virtually useless. The device was slated in newspapers and magazines worldwide, and even earned a few mocking appearances in the Doonesbury cartoon strip.

Last year, the company came out with an improved version, called Newton 2.0. The handwriting recognition was vastly improved and encouraged Apple to continue further development. Now Apple is about to launch two new Newton products that take the technology even further.

The first, called the Messagepad 2000, looks very similar to the original Newton. The screen has been rotated by 90 degrees to make it wider and easier for writing on, but the most important differences are all inside. The computer chip used in the original Newton products was designed by a British company called Advanced RISC Machines (ARM). This has been replaced by a new chip called StrongARM, jointly developed by ARM and the Digital Equipment Corporation.

The StrongARM chip is eight times faster than its predecessor, making the handwriting recognition much more responsive. The screen resolution has also been increased, allowing it to display more complex graphics. New Internet software has been built into it so that the new MessagePad can even be used to view the pages of the World Wide Web.

The StrongARM chip is also powerful enough to perform digital sound recording. You can record spoken messages and store them in memory, ready to be played back whenever you want. These new features make the MessagePad a much more versatile and useful device than before, and it's certainly no longer the laughing stock it used to be.

It's also more expensive, though. The new MessagePad will cost pounds 800-pounds 900, so Apple will initially attempt to sell it to specialist business and technical users. But to get the Newton technology used more widely, Apple plans to produce less expensive designs aimed at particular types of users.

With that in mind, the second device, provisionally called the E-Mate 300, is less expensive and has been designed specifically for use in schools.

The E-Mate is a genuinely eye-catching piece of industrial design. In a complete departure from all the other Newton designs, it is a clam-shaped unit, complete with a moulded handle that makes it look more like a handbag than a computer. The upper part of the unit is semi-transluscent and folds open to reveal a keyboard and a larger screen. Returning to a keyboard might seem like a backward step, but the E-Mate is primarily intended to be used on a classroom desk rather than as a hand-held device. The stylus is still there, though, if anyone does want to use the machine's handwriting recognition abilities.

The E-Mate comes with a built-in wordprocessor and drawing program as well as Internet software, so it will function as a complete mini-computer that can be used for writing essays and reports and for surfing the Internet.

It doesn't have a microphone for digital recording, so the E-Mate can use a less expensive version of the original ARM chip. Apple estimates that its price will be "well under $1,000 in the US", which means approximately pounds 500-pounds 600 in the UK.

Apple recognises that the bureaucracy involved in selling computers to UK schools means that the E-Mate may take time some time to gain acceptance. However, the device costs considerably less than a conventional PC, and if Tony Blair wins the general election E-Mate might fit in nicely with his plans for connecting schools to the Internet and giving pupils access to computers.

Who knows, after the launch of E-Mate, Apple might be rooting for a Labour victory.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk