Love Notes to Newton

Not that long ago, tech pundits would run articles like “The biggest technology flops in history” and “Apple’s Worst Products and Biggest Failures”. These lists would always contain Apple’s Newton handheld computer. Was it a failure? I don’t think so, but you can decide for yourself.

July 22nd, Noah Leon’s movie “Love Notes to Newton” was released at Macstock 2018, and made available for viewing on Vimeo On Demand. Noah went globe trotting to interview some of the people involved in creating the Newton, including lead designer Steve Capps, Newtonscript author Walter Smith, Apple CEO John Sculley, and a bunch of people from the newtontalk mailing list who just won’t let the Newton die.

The Love Notes movie is visually stunning; Noah has a great eye for background settings. Having watched it, I really want to go to Germany. It’s also great to hear this pre-web history from the people who were there, rather than the hearsay of the tech press.

But - wait - there’s more. Me! I’m in the movie! Noah came over to my house, in The Great White North, on a cold March day and we spent a great afternoon eating butter tarts, and Nanaimo bars, going through my stash of Newton hardware and memories.

What does this have to do with embedded systems? From the beginning, Newton used ARM processors. Apple partnered with ARM to develop a new generation of ARM processors and, in the end, sold their shares in the partnership for $800M. This was enough to keep Apple afloat to become the company they are today. But their involvement also helped ARM to thrive and give us the processors in our phones and embedded systems.

So, was Newton a failure? It may not have fulfilled its promised feature set, but the offshoots of this little green device are massive. Your smartphone, tablet, Alexa box, Raspberry Pi, and a lot of the products that we are building, can trace their brain’s heritage back to the Newton.

If you want to see Love Notes to Newton, you can rent or buy it.


This post is part of a series. Please see the other posts here.


 Newton Programming Essentials 1994. I'm second from the right in the front row (with the clear case 110). The person behind me is the instructor, Kent Beck of Extreme Programming fame.

Newton Programming Essentials 1994. I'm second from the right in the front row (with the clear case 110). The person behind me is the instructor, Kent Beck of Extreme Programming fame.


Music to program by: This week's tune is completely aspirational. The way to San Jose is to get into tech, but Dionne Warwick has other ideas. Do You Know the Way to San Jose · Dionne Warwick 1968.