How Apple Newton’s failure led to the iPhone

But raving about the similarities in form factors is just scratching the surface of evolution here. One feature, in particular, that received the most attention – both good and bad – was handwriting recognition for text-based user input. Touch input for computers was somewhat of an alien concept back then. And yet, Apple has fully embraced it for the Newton on bread-and-butter keyboard input. For some, it was ahead of its time and a glimpse into the future of handhelds. For others, it was a gimmick, especially when Newton’s recognition system got it wrong. He was violently mocked, both in print and in the media.

But unlike the Touch Bar on MacBook Pro, Apple hasn’t given up on the idea. In the years before the Newton line was discontinued in 1998, Apple actually improved it with each iteration. But the problem was twofold here. The first Newton MessagePad comes with 10,000 words pre-installed to recognize anything users have scribbled on its monochrome screen. For people imagining a notebook note session in any script other than English, the Apple device was a $699 disappointment. Another aspect that was beyond Apple’s reach was the lack of connected software infrastructure, which could help upgrade the recognition system and, more importantly, take full advantage of its capabilities.

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