The Newton Messagepad that got away

This week at CrunchGear, we’re looking back at some of our favorite gadgets from the not-so-distant past — old phones, computers, media players, toys… those devices that still stand out in our memories despite their obsolescence. Feel free to contribute some of your own nostalgia.

Back in college there was this guy Joel who was always working on cooler stuff than we were. He was in Scotch and Soda, the drama club at Carnegie Mellon and one day he brought out his Newton Messagepad. Man was I impressed. This was just on the cusp of the dot-com era when handheld devices coolness levels maxed out at the TI-81 calculator. To see a windowed environment on an LCD screen with a programmable OS? That was crazy town.

Anyway, I only recently got an old Messagepad for old times sake. It’s nigh on unusable today, especially considering I don’t have a floppy drive anywhere. I never owned one back when they first came out. They were prohibitively expensive and they were generally too incredible for me to fathom a use for them. Why would you need an address book? A calendar? I had paper versions of those. I didn’t really need to remember a lot of phone numbers and all of my friends emails were in Pine and I’d never send an email by plugging a small handheld device into a telephone port and making a call let alone wirelessly. Right?

My first PIM was the Palm V and then I got an iPaq and installed Linux on it. But by that time the Newton was gone, disappeared by Jobs’ product line cuts. But a bit of his DNA still lives on: when you drag an item out of the dock in OSX dock you see a puff of smoke. That’s what happened when you scratched out text on the Newton’s screen. Instead of a silent delete you heard a “pop” and it would just disappear. It was, in the end, far to ahead of its time.