The Apple Newton
When Apple introduced its Newton tablet in 1993, the product was considered a revolution in personal computing. However, after five years of product bugs, customer complaints and disappointing sales, Apple discontinued it. Key takeaways for other companies include incorporating usability into product design and creating marketing campaigns that adequately describe the product.
Michelle Fares, Associate, Digital Integration & Innovation
Once upon a time, a company named Apple introduced a device that promised to change the face of personal computing forever. Portable, user friendly and technologically advanced, this tablet used touch-screen technology for an intuitive user experience. But if you were thinking of the iPad, you would be wrong. The year was 1993, and the product was the Apple Newton.
The Apple Newton pioneered the term “PDA” when it debuted in 1993, and boasted music streaming, Web and email access, and handwriting recognition capabilities. It had a large screen, easy-to-use interface, and up to 2MB of memory – a lot by 1993 standards. However, despite these features, the Newton was not as successful as Apple had hoped. Unit sales were disappointing, and Apple discontinued the product in 1998.
Though the Newton was ahead of its time, some flaws kept it from finding success:
- Portability: The Newton’s low battery life, large size and heavy weight made it inconvenient to use on the go.
- Price points: The price range of $700 to $1,200 was higher than what most consumers were willing to pay.
- Function: Reduced flash memory and a multi-tasking function greatly slowed down processing speed.
- Timing: Because the Newton was demo’ed almost two years before it shipped, Apple was forced to rush the product into stores before it was really ready. Also, marketing efforts behind the Newton were minimal.
- Bleeding edge: Since the Newton was not similar to any product existing on the market, customers weren’t sure whether to use it as a toy, substitute it for a computer, or take it along when travelling.
Incidentally, despite its flaws, the Apple Newton is not yet extinct. Hardcore fans still use and maintain their Newtons and trade tech fixes and tricks online.Implications and Action Items
Although the Newton paved the way for popular devices like the Palm Pilot, smartphone and tablet, in many ways it was simply ahead of its time. In 2010, Apple’s iPad product sold close to 15 million units in its first year, proving that the company has learned from its missteps.1
Key takeaways for other companies introducing new products or services include:
- Product functionality: A product’s technology should support its basic functions. Customers won’t be interested in sophisticated tools if the product does not quickly deliver on basic tasks. Although the iPad is often criticized for not having multi-tasking functionality, it works well and quickly and has been embraced by customers.
- Marketing efforts: When introducing a revolutionary product or service, companies must educate consumers on what it is for and how to use it. Prior to the iPad release, Apple ran a series of ads that demonstrated people using the iPad so that customers could see for themselves how it worked and what it offered.
- Timing: Product developers should ensure that all bugs have been worked out and marketing efforts have time to adequately support the product before it becomes available to consumers.
“Liveblog: Apple’s March 2 iPad Event,” ARS Technica