When Steve Jobs killed off Apple’s first touchscreen device

Look familiar?
Look familiar?
Image: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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Apple launched the Newton—a handheld, portable, touchscreen device—in 1993.  Designed to fit in a back pocket, it was truly revolutionary for its time and probably the coolest product that Apple had launched since firing Steve Jobs in 1985. It couldn’t connect to a nascent internet and wi-fi did not yet exist, but it could recognize handwriting via a stylus—sort of.

Jobs, on his return in 1997, proceeded to cancel the product.

He told Walter Isaacson in his authorized biography, “God gave us 10 styluses. Let’s not invent another.” In a new oral history of Infinite Loop, Apple’s longtime offices in Cupertino, California, Wired informs us that, upon hearing the announcement, Newton fans started protesting outside the office on what was Tim Cook’s first day working at Apple.

Tim Cook (Apple CEO, 1998–present): My first day at work I had to cross a picket line to get in the building—they are out with signs and yelling and I’m asking myself, “What have I done?” I learned that it was because Steve decided to kill the Newton. I told him there’s protesters outside, and he says, “Oh yeah, don’t worry about that.”

At IBM and Compaq, where I had been working, I had been involved in helping with thousands of product introductions and withdrawals—and, I have to say, very few people cared about the withdrawals—and not very many people cared about the intro, either. I had never seen this passion that close up.

The oral history also gives us an insight into how Jobs felt about the decision. When longtime marketing executive Phil Schiller told Jobs that the customers were picketing and were very angry, Jobs replied:

They have every right to be angry. They love Newton. It’s a great product, and we have to kill it, and that’s not fun, so we have to get them coffee and doughnuts and send it down to them and tell them we love them and we’re sorry and we support them.

A decade after killing the Newton, Apple would return to touchscreen handheld devices with the iPhone and change the world. After Jobs’s death, Apple would also attempt to best God once more, when it made a new, improved stylus for its iPad Pro.