Tue 4/12 Why Steve Jobs Killed the Newton

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs didn’t come back to Apple to kill the Newton; he came back save the company. The Newton was sacrificed to keep Apple alive, and it is pointless to think if things had been different — if the Newton had been saved. If the Newton had been saved we would not have the Apple we have today. I am glad Steve Jobs made the choice to kill the Newton if it meant saving the company I love.

Input

I think that, to me, what I want is this little thing that I carry around with me that’s got a keyboard on it, because to do email, you need a keyboard. Until you perfect speech recognition, you need a keyboard. You don’t sit there and write stuff, you need a keyboard. And you need to be connected to the net. So if somebody would just make a little thing where you’re connected to the net at all times, and you’ve got a little keyboard, like an eMate with a modem in it. God, I’d love to buy one. But I don’t see one of those out there. And I don’t care what OS it has in it. So, you know, I don’t want a little scribble thing. But that’s just me.

It sounds like Steve was talking about a BlackBerry. He wasn’t the only one that poked fun at the Newton’s poor handwriting recognition. Deciphering people’s handwriting is hard. It is much easier to get the human mind to adapt to the restraints of a device, than it is to get a 20 MHz ARM processor to adapt to the infinite varieties of human handwriting. Graffiti on the Palm Pilot proved that people could be taught to write in a restrictive way a PDA can understand, but for a device to be accessible to the general public the learning curve had to be lowered. People are attracted to the familiar. Keyboards are familiar to anyone who has ever used a computer. If the technology for transparent handwriting recognition isn’t available why make people suffer through a half-baked experience, especially if the alternative, a keyboard, is readily available and the faster way to go? It is hard to support a product that was developed before its time when superior alternatives are available today.

Connectivity

I tried a Newton, I bought one of the early ones, I thought it was a piece of junk, I threw it away. I bought one of the Motorola envoys, I thought it was a piece of junk after three months and threw it away. I hear the new ones are a lot better. I haven’t tried one… here’s my problem: My problem is, to me, the high order bit is connectivity. The high order bit is being in touch, connected to a network. That’s why I bought the Envoy: it had a cellular modem in it. And I don’t think the world’s about keeping my life on this little thing and IR-ing it into my computer when I get back to my base station.

The Internet is a big part of the iPhone’s success. One-third of the iPhone introduction keynote was for a breakthrough internet communications device. Many of the App Store’s most popular applications leverage the Internet for real-time communications and services. Most desktop computers at the time of the Newton’s release didn’t have an always on Internet connection, and most mobile devices could not connect to the internet short of being tethered to a desktop computer. The Newton’s audible faxing capabilities and optional dial-up modem were a step in the right direction, but the technology for always on wireless internet connectivity just didn’t exist when the Newton was being developed. It would have been a financial mistake for Apple to wait another ten years for the Newton to fulfill its promise of being a great communications device. Putting the company further behind when it needed to focus on its strengths.

Focus

Apple suffered for several years from lousy engineering management. There were people that were going off in 18 different directions… What happened was that you looked at the farm that’s been created with all these different animals going in all different directions, and it doesn’t add up – the total is less than the sum of the parts. We had to decide: What are the fundamental directions we are going in? What makes sense and what doesn’t? And there were a bunch of things that didn’t.

Focusing is saying yes, right? No. Focusing is about saying no. You’ve got to say, no, no, no. The result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.

I think that most companies can’t be successful with one stack of system software. Rarely can they manage two, and we I believe are going to succeed at managing two in the next several years, with Mac OS and Rhapsody, which is a superset of that. I cannot imagine being successful trying to manage three. So I have sort of a law of physics disconnect with trying to do that, I just don’t see how it can be done. And I don’t think that has anything to do with how good or bad Newton is, or whether we should be making $800 products, or $500 products, which I think we should. It has to do with, I don’t see how you manage three software stacks.

Have you ever tried to buy a computer off of Dell, HP, or Sony’s website? So many options with obscure product numbers, unordered pricing, and customizations listed in a language only an engineer could understand. Excessive choice makes the shopping process more stressful than it needs to be. Customers begin to second guess themselves, and all of the acronyms lead towards too much confusion. It is fruitless to concentrate on making more, when the quantity you have is uninviting, and the effort you put towards maintaining that quantity is diluting your bottom line.

Steve Jobs understood this. He understood how expensive maintaining multiple software stacks can be, let alone the printers, cameras, and desktop accessories Apple was peddling at the time. For Apple to be great — no for Apple to survive — it had to concentrate on the Macintosh, the one thing it did best, while saying no to everything else. That included the Newton, the printers, the cameras, servers, desktop accessories, and middle management that were getting in the way of making the Macintosh great again.

John Sculley

Oh, it was very painful. I’m not sure I even want to talk about it. (pause) What can I say? I hired the wrong guy. And he [John Sculley] destroyed everything I’d spent 10 years working for. Starting with me, but that wasn’t the saddest part. I’d have gladly left Apple if it had turned out like I wanted it to.

I don’t know if Steve jobs was a vengeful man, but people say since John Sculley created the Newton, and John Sculley threw Steve Jobs out of Apple, that upon Steve Jobs return the Newton had to go. I don’t know if that is true. It is hard to love your enemies child, but if John Sculley’s child had been a success would Steve have kept it around? Would Steve Jobs have returned to Apple in in 1997?

It is pointless to engage in these kind of “what-if” scenarios. If the Newton had been successful and transformed Apple into a thriving consumer electronics company Steve Jobs would have never come back to Apple in the first place. Steve Jobs didn’t kill the Newton because John Sculley was its father, Steve Jobs killed the Newton because it was already dead.

First published on May 11th, 2012.