Newton MessagePad
Models: original (OMP) and 100 (MP100)

Click for larger view


Gallery Commentary

    A result of the combined efforts of Steve Capps, Walter Smith, Michael Tchao, Gaston Bastiaens, John Sculley and many members of the Newton Team, the Original newton MessagePad (OMP) was the first in a family of communications assistants from Apple. The OMP was unveiled and released on August 3, 1993 at MacWorld Boston. It's release was somewhat premature and it is referred to by some of the newton faithful as the 'grand public beta test'. The rumor is that Gaston Bastiaens, Vice President and General Manager of Apple's Personal Interactive Electronics Division (PIE), had made a very public 'bet' with a member of the Press that the Newton would be released at MacWorld Boston or he'd give up his wine cellar. He loved his wine cellar, thus the release happened

    With the introduction of the MessagePad at MacWorld Boston, Apple defined a new realm of personal computing -- the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). The MessagePad was Apple's first pen-based device based on its Newton Intelligence operating system. Its key features were its communications capabilities (fax, email), its built-in personal organizer applications (Names, Dates, To Dos, Notes) and its ability to recognize and the interpret words written on its screen. An amazing capacity to 'parse' language was inside this tiny device. If one would write "Lunch with Bob tomorrow" on the screen, then tap the Assist button. The MessagePad would interpret the phrase and open a meeting slip already filled out with the last-accessed person named Bob, tomorrow's date, and the lunch hour already allocated to this new meeting. Stunning.

    Unfortunately, the word-based handwriting recognition engine in the Newton which was developed by the Soviet programmers at Paragraph International Inc. got more attention for what it couldn't do than what it could. The Gary Trudeau comic strip 'Doonesbury' cartoons summed up the criticism and made the MessagePad infamous, and labeled it a failure. As a semi apology for the damage his cartoon did to the Newton's reputation (since he had never actually seen one before writing the strip), in the later versions of the Newton OS (2.0) Trudeau re-created a frame similar to the original to be included as an easter egg in the newton ROM. (write "egg freckles" on a 2.0 Newton, tap Assist, and you get a real Gary Trudeau cartoon). Later, Apple's Newton OS 2.0 had an amazing 'Apple created' print recognizer engine in addition to the Paragraph Cursive recognizer (Calligrapher) for very high reliability. The new recognition didn't get any press, though. Features that separated the MessagePad from other devices on the market were grounded in the Newton OS. Newton used an entirely new way of storing data -- soups. Soups were designed as reusable data stores so any application could access any other application's data, and this flexibility gave Newton an advantage. Soups could exist on multiple storage devices, so some of your Names could be held in internal RAM and others on multiple RAM cards, with the OS doing all the housekeeping. There are two different ROMs which shipped in the OMP. The first shipped at the introduction with version 1.0 on the chip with a patch to version 1.02; later updates were 1.03, 1.04. and finally 1.05. The second ROM shipped after 10/30/93 with 1.10 on the chip and a patch to 1.11; there were no later patches.

    The Newton MessagePad 100 had the same hardware as an OMP but with a much nicer operating system (version 1.3). Sharp's ExpertPads were clones of these machines. In both of these messagepads, handwriting recognition (HWR) was the basis of data input to many of the built-in applications. HWR depended solely on Paragraph International Inc.'s Calligrapher recognition engine. Calligrapher is amazing technology but is limited somewhat by the dictionary of words to which it has access. If you write a word that doesn't exist in the dictionary Calligrapher is NOT going to recognize it correctly. Calligrapher also 'learns' your handwriting over weeks. Thus a messagepad is very personal and can fail miserably at recognizing a stranger's handwriting especially words it's never heard of before. With some training and adding new words to its dictionary (word list) Calligrapher can be amazingly accurate at HWR. HWR is like magic sometimes, recognizing scribble that no human could. Version 1.3 of the Newton OS (Newton Intelligence as it was originally named) added another letter by letter recognition engine and deferred recognition capabilities to the HWR which enhanced the newton's capabilities quite a bit. OS 1.3 is a very stable and capable operating system (much nicer than previous versions). These first newtons were manufactured by Sharp Electronics Inc. and had bright clear supertwish LCD screens. Some of the OMPs had golden colored screens which were so nice that they caused trouble when Apple had to change to another manufacturer and the MP110's screen was poor in comparison. The newtons also had a wonderful texture to them. They had a rubberized surface that kept the units well gripped in the user's hand. This 'skin' as it was called was later omitted in the MP120's after heavily used MP110's began to peel and draw complaints from users. The OMP and MP100s had a flat stylus (stored on the holster on the side of the unit) that was called a carpenter's pen. Later models had rounded styluses with internal storage holsters.

Original Product Specifications Announcement (1993)

   The Newton MessagePad is the first in a family of communications assistants from Apple. By combining Newton Intelligence technology with sophisticated communications capabilities, the Newton MessagePads help you stay in touch with friends and colleagues, organize your life, and keep track of your ideas. You can take notes. Make a quick sketch. Format and print letters. Share and synchronize information with your personal computer. Send a fax. Receive pages and messages. Tap into on-line services or electronic mail. Even exchange business cards with a colleague via built-in infrared technology. And wherever you go, the powerful, under-one-pound personal digital assistant goes too, tucked in your pocket or briefcase.

   Almost as easy to use as pencil and paper, the Newton MessagePad lets you leave your notes handwritten or reads your handwriting and transforms it into typed text. If you prefer, you can type words using an on-screen keyboard. It even cleans up your rough sketches. And as time goes by, it learns about you, your handwriting, and the way you work.

   Because the Newton MessagePad is designed to know how you work, it can help you work smarter. For example, the Newton MessagePad can find a phone number and dial the phone for you, fax a note, format a letter, and even set up a lunch appointment.

   The Newton MessagePad comes with built-in applications that include a notepad, to-do list, datebook, and name file to get you started. When you're ready, you can customize your Newton MessagePad to include Apple and third-party software and hardware additions as well. There's already a good selection of Shareware available on popular Macintosh FTP Sites like


Built-in applications

Communications capabilities

Intelligent assistance

Technical Specifications

Newton Intelligence

Newton Recognition Architecture

Newton Information Architecture

Newton Communications Architecture -- Provides single interface for all communication services

Intelligent Assistance Architecture

Newton Hardware Architecture

Communications capabilities

Size and weight

Operating environment

Power requirements

Power adapter

Battery type: alkaline or nickel-cadmium

Lithium cell: CR2032

Power source

System requirements

Printer support

Fax machine support