Nano Apple shocked the gadget world in 2005 when it scrapped its best-selling iPod, the iPod mini, for an altogether different product, the iPod nano. Apple probably thought ‘mini’ was just not small enough to describe the new miniscule – I mean nanoscule – MP3 player. The nano was smaller than the mini – although it was only 0.1in shorter.
Newton Fourteen years before the iPhone and 17 before the iPad Apple threatened to turn computing on its head by releasing a handheld PC that you could fit in your pocket – if you had really big pockets.
The big thing about this not-so-little thing was its handwriting recognition, which unfortunately, on launch, was about as accurate as the weather forecast. It effectively damned the device from Day One – even when it was immeasurably improved in later versions. On its debut the handwriting recognition dictionary contained just 10,000 words – about the same as a bookish six-year-old child.
Like the iPhone and iPad that followed it so many years later the Newton MessagePad was cute – it could be rotated in portrait and landscape modes. You wrote on the screen with a little stylus, and you could scratch out words to be deleted and circle text to be selected.
The Newton suffered not just from its initial reception but also from its bulk – in direct contrast to today’s Apple products the Newton got bigger and heavier with each new release. Palm’s Pilot PDA was a hit because you really could fit it in your pocket. Apple’s planned Newton LC mini MessagePad never saw the light of day, or the linty dark of a fanboy’s pocket.
Disgruntled Newton engineers left for Palm, and two set up a small company called Pixo that Apple later bought to use for its operating system for the iPod.
On his return to Apple in 1997 Steve Jobs derided the Newton as “a little scribble thing”, and killed it off much to the dismay of all the third-party giant pocket manufacturers.
Newton Inc In 1997 Apple decided to spin off the Newton division into its own wholly owned subsidiary. This is either a good thing (“Go on, bright new thing, here’s some cash. Go out and do great things!”) or something more ominous (“Get that crappy thing out of my sight so I won’t see its crying face when we kill it”).
NeXT When Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple after his 1985 attempted coup against one-time pal and Apple ally John Sculley he was just 30 years old. He was a multi-millionaire and could have retired to spend more time removing furniture from his minimalist mansion.
After he’d cleared his desk of tech knick-knacks, bow ties and photos of Woz, Jobs rounded up his best people from the Mac division and informed Apple that he was starting a new computer company aimed at the higher-education market.
In a typical example of brand minimalism and a pointer to his later obsession with lower-case vowels he named his next company NeXT.
Steve had just met chemistry Nobel laureate Paul Berg who had blubbed about the need for a super educational computer that could boast a whole megabyte of RAM. Jobs foresaw a computer that was powerful enough to research recombinant DNA but cheap enough to allow students to play Pong in their digs.
Apple was miffed at Jobs taking away its best people – even though history was to prove that it had got rid of its own best person – and it tried to sue NeXT for “nefarious schemes”. Jobs snapped back “It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn’t compete with six people in blue jeans.”
The NeXT offices were situated in a glass and concrete building that featured a staircase designed by Louvre glass pyramid architect IM Pei. It had simple hardwood flooring and large worktables where the NeXT PCs would be assembled. Sound familiar?
It probably had a Genius Bar, as well.
Of course, Jobs knows nano about making cheap computers. The first retail NeXT computer did sell for less than $10,000 – by a whole $1. Jobs had spent a fortune on the NeXT logo and on the computer’s design – a one-foot magnesium cube.
When reviewers of the NeXTcube suggested that it was late, Jobs hit back in classic Steve style: “Late? This computer is five years ahead of its time!”
Although it did have its notable successes – Tim Berners-Lee used a NeXT computer to create the first web browser and server – the hardware just didn’t catch on and was scrapped in 1993.
NeXT had a little more success with its software arm, which created an object-oriented, multi-tasking operating system, until a beleaguered Apple begged Steve to sell its NeXTSTEP as the basis of its, er, NeXT-generation OS.
Steve flogged an on-its-knees NeXT to his old company for $429m and 1.5 million shares in Apple, and quickly ousted floundering CEO Gil Amelio to take back control of the company. NeXTStep became Mac OS X, and the rest is history.