Thursday, December 28, 2006

PDA Ideas: Return of Newton

Today I was reading the posting on regarding the top ten Apple rumors, and got caught in the Return of Newton. Now, as you know I have mentioned my wishlist for an Apple iPhone, but if you notice not one of the features were specific to a phone. Instead, they were specific to a PDA that can and will work natively with the Apple computer. It's been a while since I had read about the Newton, and it seems that in the past few weeks (including my trip to Cupertino), the Newton has come up quite a bit.

The reason why the Newton has been referred to so often in the past couple of weeks, in my opinion at least, is because the iPhone has people talking glorified PDA with phone capability. The Newton was so well designed that it easily remains one of the best PDA's one can own. But if that's so, why did it fail? Let's take a look and see:

The Development Team
This information I have is coming from an inside source from Apple, so please take it as the hear-say that I heard. According to the source that I have within Apple, the Newton developers were rather proud of their role. They saw themselves as creating a destiny for Apple that would revolutionize the company into a portable handheld world. And as such, they made some very stupid mistakes.

First, they ignored the budgetary constraints that were placed on the entire company when times were hard. After all, if you were redefining the company's future, why shouldn't you have frequent catered lunches? This, of course, didn't go over very well within company management, or within the rest of the company. But this could have easily been overlooked if the device had been a huge success.

Second, they developed a huge device that made it difficult (at the time) to lug around. Now the device would be acceptable if only because most professionals no longer carry a PDA in their pocket, but rather carry the device in a backpack/briefcase/handbag. But in the early 1990's, it was too bulky to be considered a portable device that was of any use.

The final nail in the coffin was the price. At the time, personal expenses could be written off to the company for a device if it was under $500. This means that any more expensive device needed to be tied directly to income, and that limited the purchasing power of more expensive devices within the Corporate world. My source was aware of this, and actually asked the Newton development team if they had run a cost analysis on the Newton, and if their choice of pricing it above $500 was taken into consideration. The answer she received was"We are Apple, people will pay what we tell them to pay."

Yes, blunders like that are precisely why Steve Jobs axed the project when he came back as CEO of Apple. Since then, according to Wikipedia, the Newton has floundered. In the end, though many of the software innovations that were created for the Newton have been implemented into Mac OS X, hope for a Macintosh PDA or tablet PC has been all but dead.

But Why Bring It Up Again?
Good question: Why would I bring it up again? Because so many PDA's that I have used and experimented with have let me down. They either have a battery life that make them virtually unusable, have a screen size that doesn't work well with the applications that I try to run, or they don't work with the platforms that I would expect from my PDA. I'm sure that I'm not the only one out there that has this same desire, and would like to see a decent device come out that not only does everything you need it to do, but is also relatively inexpensive as well.

I've looked at and played with several, including the NEC MobilePro's (which I really liked), Palm Pilots, GPE on an iPaq, and various Pocket PC's. Every one of them has lacked a single feature that I would want om a PDA that works for me. Either it was too complicated to learn how to write (Palm), too small to type (MobilePro), lacked connectivity and syncing abilities (GPE), or lacked native platform support for the Macintosh (Pocket PC).

Added to that is the price. Being fiercely Scottish myself, I don't want to pay a lot of money for something that is scaled down from a Desktop for the same price. Why don't I buy a WiFi + Bluetooth iPaq or phone? Because I can spend that same $400 and build a decent PC running Linux, and have it do more. Nope, if I get a PDA again, it needs to either be closer to the price of an iPod, or it needs to be comparable to the same priced PC. With components becoming less expensive, you would think that would be very possible.

So, what is it that I want out of a PDA? Here is my wishlist:
1. Needs to sync with the Macintosh, and Linux as well as a PC.
2. Provide connectivity (WiFi + Bluetooth), perhaps with 3G phone technology.
3. Support CalDAV standards, and utilize subscriptions to iCalendar formats (either vCal or iCal). Additional MS Exchange Server support would be a plus.
4. Video Conferencing out of the box through open standards (Jabber), and popular standards (AIM, MSN Messenger, Bonjour, etc.).
5. Very simple user interface. I just want it to work.
6. Audio to text dictation. Speech recognition has greatly improved, and should be utilized.
7. Simple developer interface. Use something like Dashboard widgets, and have it drag and drop to the Mac.
8. At least a 10 hour battery life.

There isn't a lot there, if you notice. I didn't say that I was going to require a color screen, though it would be nice. In reality, I would be happy with a black and white screen, as long as it did everything else I like. I also don't really care about editing documents either. If I was going to edit a document, I would use my desktop, or a small form notebook. That is, after all, what they are designed for. But I would need to read the document, or leave notes. While handwriting recognition would be nice, I think voice recognition would be more effective if possible. And finally, I don't care if I can't watch full length movies or listen to my iTunes music on it. That's what the iTV is for, and an iPod Shuffle.

Anyway, I don't know if anyone from Apple is looking at this, but if they are, I hope they understand that the request isn't necessarily for them, but if they would work with a PDA company to develop a device that meets all these specifications, they would definitely have my money. ^_^

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