Skip to main content

The smartphone is one of the most commonly used devices on earth, and touch screen fingertips are an ideal way to use them both intuitively and hygienically.

Whilst the modern capacitive touch screen was not their invention, Apple received a lot of credit for popularising the concept with the original iPhone, first unveiled in 2007.

However, whilst the iPhone would revolutionise not only telecommunications but how many people lived their lives, Apple’s first attempt at a touch screen device fared so badly that it not only nearly bankrupted the company but could have stopped touch screens from ever being taken seriously.

The Apple Newton was a project that started in 1987 and aimed to create what they described as a “personal digital assistant” (PDA). In an age when not everyone had a computer and the internet as we know it now didn’t exist, this was the most ambitious Apple project since the departure of founder Steve Jobs.

Many aspects of the Newton were ahead of their time; Apple was one of the first companies to use an ARM processor in a mobile device, featured an Operating System that was shared with a family of devices like iOS and Android, and had an interface based around natural gestures such as scribbling out to delete, tapping and circling.

However, the Apple Newton was only ever known for “Eat Up Martha”. The Newton’s most touted feature was its handwriting recognition, which was meant to make it easy to take notes and interact with its application suite.

Unfortunately, the Newton was so expensive to develop and so the first Newton devices shipped with handwriting recognition that failed to recognise anyone’s handwriting, for which it was widely mocked.

It suffered huge losses as a result of mockery and competition from the Palm Pilot, and one of the first acts Steve Jobs did when he returned to the company was to axe the Newton completely, purportedly hating the fact you had to use a stylus due to its cumbersome touch screen.

He would eventually buy a company called FingerWorks, which provided the multi-touch technology that made the iPhone a possibility.