MacMost Now 60: Newton Versus iPhone

Gary Rosenzweig compares his old Newton MessagePad 2000 against the iPhone. The Newton had handwriting recognition and 3rd party software right from the start.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 60: Newton Versus iPhone.

Hi, this is Gary Rosenzweig. Back in 1997 I bought one of these. In 2007 I bought one of these. Let's compare them on this episode of MacMost now. This is a newton message pad 2000. I got it in 1997 and cost me about $400. It weighs about a pound and a half and has a huge writing screen that's just black and white, but it does a lot of things the iPhone actually still doesn't do, and one of the things it does is handwriting recognition. You can take the stylus that comes with it and write something on it. Like that. And will convert it for you into to text or keep it for you as a drawing, if you want. So you basically use this as a tablet computer, just writing on it or taking notes, as a matter of fact, that's what it does best. Now the downside to the message pad compared to the modern day iPhone is that it only has about four megs of memory. That's right, megs of memory. So, there's not much room on here to store MP3s, matter of fact, there is no headphone jack out, so it's not really an MP3 player at all, but it does have a lot of neat things that the iPhone doesn't have. One thing is, it's got two card slots, so you can add things like modems and extensions to it. There's also a serial port at the top, which is how you dock it, but you can also add things like a keyboard to it. In fact, this one came with a keyboard. So you can type an keep notes quicker than handwriting at a conference, say, or in a class. Now the battery life on these things was excellent. I can't remember exactly what the original battery life on these things was, but I know if you can get these things refurbished you can get about forty hours of battery life out of it. And it even comes with a battery pack that allows you to put four double A batteries into it so you can take it traveling and no worry about forgetting to charge it or something. The other thing about this device that is really big is the fact that it supports third party software, it did that right from the get-go. So people would write all sorts of software. As a matter of fact, when Apple discontinued the machine in 1998, a strong developer community kept writing software and producing new peripherals for the device, so a lot of people still use it today. Now the iPhone of course is a lot lighter and a lot prettier, and it has a ton of memory. I mean, this one's the standard eight gigabyte one, you can get one now that's sixteen gigs, and with the headphone out jack that means it's a useful MP3 player and media player of all kinds as you can play movies and things on it. It has a high resolution screen as opposed to just the monochrome screen of the Newton. So this is a much more useful device in today's multimedia world. But where the iPhone falls down is the extendibility. Third party application aren't here yet although they're coming but it looks like Apple's going to restrict them and basically get to say which ones get produced and which ones don't. Also of course, there's really very little extra hardware besides speaker systems and such. What would be nice is to have an extra keyboard on this, to take notes, and also of course to have a variety of different hardware applications that maybe Apple hasn't even thought up yet. What's pretty natural when I compare these two things, I mean they're both small computing devices by Apple, but this one's really more similar to a tablet PC and this one is a combination of a phone and an MP3 player. So, as time goes on and third party apps come to the iPhone, this will probably do everything that the Newton message pad did. But it's nice to take a look back and see what's there in the past and see how far we've come today. What's most interesting when trying to compare these two devices is how close the Newton message pad is to the iPhone in many respects, and it's fourteen years older. Just shows you how advanced the message pad was back when it came out in 1993. It was also interesting to me when doing this pod cast to see that the cool factor was there for the Newton message pad. It still seems like this really cool device and I want to use it for something. If you've got a Newton message pad, I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment to this podcast at the website and let me know what your favorite feature of the Newton message pad was and why you think it may be in some ways better than the iPhone. Until next time, this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Comments: 7 Responses to “MacMost Now 60: Newton Versus iPhone”

    11 years ago

    I still have my Newton MessagePads (an MP110, MP130, and two MP2100s). I used the 2100s daily until I got my iPhone, and still use it on occasion.

    The Newton missing features I find most useful is the natural language interface (Newton Intelligence), the extensible Notepad (especially the built in outline and addon timesheet paper types), and the Office 97 compatible Works application.

    The browser and e-mail on the iPhone is so superior to what was available on the Newton, they are not in the same league. But the Newton’s Address book and calendar (especially after installing some add-ons) still blows away the iPhone’s equivalents (and even Leopard’s versions of those apps).

    What is amazing to me is how well though out, flexible, and integrated the Newton was–and still is–and the degree to which it is still being used and even developed for.

    11 years ago

    I gave up on my Newton about 2 years ago. I still miss it. I use a Palm Tx daily but still get frustrated by the handwriting recognition. Letter by letter recognition never cuts it, even on the Newton. I gave mine up because I just couldn’t sync it reliably on a PC, unfortunately the crap I have to use at work…but even on my Mac it was a little sketchy.

    I still use Hardy Macia’s software Pocket Money and MPG regularly on my palm, but cut it’s teeth on my trusty Newton. I forget the software now but there was a program that allowed linking between database, calendar, notes etc. I loved it! I could write a note in memos and link it to a contact and vice versa… was brilliant and kept me way more organized.

    The only thing I have left to remember my trusted friend by is the book Defying Gravity and a box full of plastic replacement styli in multiple colors.

    Thanks for bringing back great memories for me. I can’t wait for a real Newton replacement.

      9 years ago

      You mentioned an application that linked everything together, would that be MoreInfo? If it is, I still use it today! It’s great. Very easy to do contact management.

    11 years ago

    Well having both devices I’ve got to say that I prefer the Newton. However, the iPhone’s size makes it more practical. Not better! Practical.

    BTW Gary you forgot to mention the Newt’s text-to-speech capability.



    10 years ago

    Thank you for your podcast. I had developed several Newton apps for years and dearly loved my MP2000. I do have an iPhone and even though I don’t use my MP2000 anymore I really wish Apple would incorporate some of the BASIC Newton features into the iPhone. Of course we all know that Apple won’t do that!

    I see that Cut and Paste is coming to the iPhone and that was sorely needed. I can’t stand that awful word completion option that pops up when typing a word. Thankfully that can be turned off. I would like to see the Newton’s version: double tapping a misspelt word would bring up a selectable list of alternate words that with a tap replaces the incorrect one.

    Of course I would love to see the Newton’s HWR on the iPhone but, well you know. So since pigs can’t fly and screen real estate is a problem on the iPhone it would be great if developers were allowed to create different keyboards for the iPhone. Developers made several ones for the Newton. I mean, at least add cursor arrows keys! A keyboard for entering web addresses was also created for the Newton. Pretty easy to do too. Basic keys for entering common things like ‘www’, ‘.com, ‘.org’, etc.

    Of course there’s more that can be borrowed from the Newton. I think Apple really took a step backwards in creating the Human Interface of the iPhone. It would be a shame to let all that technology and what was learned from the Newton go to waste.

    10 years ago

    It’s been said that the iPhone is a great tool for the information consumer; whilst the Newton is a much better tool for the information producer.

    When you get your head around that, then it becomes clear that the two devices have quite divergent philosophical design paths. That doesn’t mean to say that some iPhone users won’t try to influence Apple to improve its information producer support, but clearly there are a lot more information consumers out there than serious information producers.

    I am in the Information Producer camp so: The HWR and the 6″ screen are the bits that are most missed on an iPhone. Without them how can you do lengthy writing and note taking? Choosing capacitative touch screen technology essentially ruled out HWR as a pen-like stylus can’t be used on it. But capacitative touch screens are much more physically robust and durable than resistive touch screens. Resistive touch screens can support sharp pointed nibs which are essential for a decent handwriting experience.

    Check out my take on whether or not the iPhone is a worthy Newton replacement on my blog:

    Cris Warren
    7 years ago

    I love my Messagepad 120 and my eMate, and am eventually going to purchase a 2000. My favorite feature of the MessagePad is the handwriting recognition. I also like the fun a quirky operating system. The device features an intelligent assist that is amazing, I don’t think I could send a fax without it. All of these features make the device seem more personal and personable. I look at the iPhone, and I see a mass produced device from a company who tells you, the consumer, what you want to buy, and I look at the Newton line and see a company that cared about its customers and wanted them to be creative. The modern device is made to sell you the value of apps, but the Newton was designed to make you more productive, and sell you the value of yourself. (This is not an original thought by the way,, has the full article on why the Messagepad is not a tablet.) I like the old Apple Computer Company, Apple Inc., though it still has amazing products, has become faceless and hard to relate to.

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