[NTLK] Finding a new feature!

James Fraser wheresthatistanbul-newtontalk at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 7 00:43:35 EDT 2011


>I wonder who put the myopia powwder in everybody's coffee at Apple?  

It's funny (and completely appropriate in Apple's case) that you chose to use 
coffee as part of your analogy to describe Apple's seemingly baffling 
behaviour.  Yes, on the one hand, their actions concerning the Newton (and the 
promise it held) might appear to be the actions of a company asleep at the 

However, looked at from a slightly different angle, it could also be said that 
Apple experienced a Great Awakening (just the sort of thing that drinking coffee 
is known to induce).

>How did they never see that they had a *brilliant* idea, had already turned it 
>into this *amazing* >device called the Newton, and were only waiting for the 
>technology to catch up so they could make >something even more astonishing?

Well, perhaps they *did* see that they had a brilliant idea on their hands, and 
saw it all too well.  Ask yourself this: which of these two business plans holds 
the greater potential for profit: 

A) Being truly innovative.  When I say "innovative," I'm specifically referring 
to the process of spending a metric diaperload of time and money on 
groundbreaking R&D that may or may not pay off in the long run, then having to 
invest yet more time and money attempting to explain to consumers just why it is 
they should care about your innovative products that help them to do things they 
weren't able to do before.  Products that, because they -are- so new, the very 
consumers you're trying to reach might have a great deal of difficulty 
understanding and appreciating just what it is you are offering to them (e.g. 
"What is Newton?").


B) Taking concepts that companies (including Apple itself) are already familiar 
with, putting these same basic concepts (concepts that potential purchasers are 
-also- already familiar with) together in a somewhat different way, then 
repackaging and selling them to consumers, taking great care to charge those 
consumers for each and every slight improvement offered, every tiny incremental 

step taken.

My money is on "B" :D

>Instead, the technology finally has caught up with the idea only to find the 
>idea has been pushed >aside.

Perhaps the idea hasn't been pushed aside so much as deliberately -set- aside?  

Apple might, potentially, be taking its users back to a point where the Newton 
was long ago: 


(Tip o' the fez to Tony Kan.)

The thing is, the journey (if, indeed, there *is* such a journey in the making: 
you decide) is clearly going to take place according to Apple's terms, and 
according to the timeframe that Apple sets.  Again, "slight improvements, tiny 
incremental steps," and, all the while, the end users (or consumers, if you 
prefer) are going to be worked like Pakistani sweatshop kids.  Why?  Because 

when a technology company decides to adopt the policy of doling out progress in 
dribs and drabs, (as opposed to being truly innovative) their customers soon 
fall into the habit of being grateful for whatever crumbs happen to be thrown 
their way.

(Grateful, that is, until another, different company comes along that is willing 
to take the time, effort and expense to be innovative, follows through, and ends 
up convincing consumers to spend their money on that company's new offerings.)

>I think I'm reaching the point where I can't let myself think about this too 
>much anymore.  

I could be mistaken, but I like to think there's a safe and sane way to consider 
all this without losing your marbles.  And that is to acknowledge that the Apple 
responsible for developing and marketing the Newton is no more.  It has rung 
down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.  It has become.....well, an 
ex-parrot, you might say.  

The Apple of 2011 is different, not only in name, (i.e. the "Apple, Inc." of 
today vs. the "Apple Computer, Inc." of the company's first 30 years) but also 
vastly different in terms of their outlook compared to the Apple that developed 
the Newton nearly twenty years ago.  The two Apples are a world apart, really.  

Once you come to grips with this (potentially unpleasant) fact, things become a 
whole lot easier to deal with and, suddenly, there's much less angst involved in 
contemplating the whole sordid mess. :)

>The decision to leaave behind the Newton tells me that Apple has not only opted 
>to focus on >populist devices (arguably a good thing) 

The thing to keep in mind (and it's not always easy, I'll admit) with decisions 
made by technology firms is that there are always two dimensions to their 
decisions: the technological side...and the business side.  Frequently, what's 
great for one side of the equation isn't equally as great for the other side (it 
can be downright detrimental, in fact).

Osborne shipping the Osborne-1 (the sort of manuever known in tech circles as 
Getting the Product Out the [expletive] Door) comes to mind.  Shipping machines 
is a great way of proving to the world that the technology you're trying to sell 
is actually being made available to end users and (lookit!) there go the boxes 
to prove it.  

Unfortunately, having the same machines returned to you 24 hours later for lack 
of proper quality control isn't so hot from a business perspective.  Naturally, 
it means the time your staff *could* be spending getting yet *more* machines out 
the door (and more money coming in) must now be spent getting the exact same 
machines you shipped out yesterday out the door a second time, but in such a way 
that they do not return a second time.


Anyway, the sad fact of the matter (sad, at least, from a technological 
perspective) is that There is Money in Mediocrity.  Apple has realized this and, 
indeed, has come to embrace this outlook (the Great Awakening I referred to 

>but to turn their back on a what I think will turn out to be the most versatile 
>electronic workhorse >anyone has ever produced.

That is exactly the point I've been trying to arrive at: the Newton became the 
"versatile electronic workhorse" (at least, in a personal information management 
sense) it is known for being today precisely because of Apple's "mistake."  The 
"mistake" of developing world-beating technology, then *abandoning it* and, by 
doing so, creating an opening a mile wide for end users and developers to crawl 
through and make it their own, have it perform the tasks they want it to do and 
(this is the really important part from a technological vantage point) *on their 
own terms,* rather than Apple's.

One look at iOS will tell you relinquishing control to the sort of degree they 
did with the Newton is a mistake that Apple is quite unlikely ever to make 
again.  And while I, personally, might consider the philosophy behind iOS to be 
tantamount to the sort of philosophy one might find at Stalag 13 of "Hogan's 
Heroes" fame, (with Steve Jobs in the Colonel Klink role*) it's plain to see 
that from a business perspective (rather than a technological one) iOS is Sheer 
Brilliance, with Apple all but dictating what key their developers and end users 
are licensed to fart in (and then charging them for the privilege of breaking 

There is probably no better time than now to be an Apple shareholder.  But an 
Apple user? Maybe not so much.  I'm sure a lot of it depends on your personal 

Of course, if Colonel Klink and Schultz are all you've ever known, things 
probably don't seem so bad.  However, if you were a young buck back when 
microcomputers were new and exciting machines, (machines that you, the end user, 
were used to making all the decisions for) the thought of spending any length of 
time in the sort of OS stalag that Apple seems all-too-happy to park its end 
users in today might be enough to get you to start thinking about hoarding soup 
cans to use as makeshift air shafts for when you're busy tunneling out of the 
place. :)

At any rate, being familiar with the Newton may or may not make the direction 
that Apple is currently taking that much harder to watch.  As I say, a lot of it 
depends on your personal outlook, and I'm not about to claim that my own outlook 
matches that of anyone else. ::grimaces sourly::     ;)


James Fraser

*If the monocle fits...

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