Last May, I had the pleasure of interviewing Noah Leon about a documentary project he was seeking crowdfunding for on Indiegogo. The film, set to be called Love Notes to Newton, would cover both the history of Apple’s ill-fated first mobile device, as well as the still-loyal community of fans who continue to love and use Newton and eMate.
While I own a MessagePad 130 and an eMate today (along with a few other “classic” mobile electronic devices), I missed out on the initial buzz over the Newton. I started using my first PDA, a term that John Scully coined at the launch of the original MessagePad, the year that the Newton was cancelled. As such, I was happy to help fund this project in hopes of learning more about this largely forgotten piece of Apple history and the people who keep its memory alive.
Fast-forward to today and Love Notes to Newton is a reality. Mr Leon got his funding and completed filming and editing the project over the course the last year with a little help from some of the dedicated members of the Newton fan community. The result is a 1 hour and 39 minute film featuring in-person interviews with several of the major players involved with the Newton project, as well as many of the leading members of the fan community.
Here are a few thoughts I have after watching the movie:
- If you are an Apple fan, you should watch this movie. Period. End stop. This is especially true if you became a user and/or fan after 1999. There is a lot of good historical background information here detailing how the Newton project came about, what the development process was like, and ultimately what went right and wrong from an inside perspective. If you only know Apple since the Jobs 2.0 era, watch this to get a taste of what came before.
- Along the same line, it is very interesting to think back to a time when a new product from Apple wasn’t a guaranteed moneymaker. The demise of the Newton at the hands of Steve Jobs was part of the close of that chapter in Apple’s history and the beginning of what we know today.
- It is really cool getting to hear about the beginnings of a new product category from so many of the people who were involved throughout. Love Notes to Newton covers all of the angles, from then-CEO John Scully on down the line.
- Hearing John Scully talk about his role with the Apple Newton is really interesting. He is certainly proud of Apple and the Newton’s role in getting ARM, now the default processor for all mobile technology, off the ground. Scully also carefully points out how Gil Amelio used the money from the same of ARM assets to keep the company afloat during hard times. He then mantions how the Newton paved the way for more successful mobile devices that would come afterward. While I do agree with him on all of the above, and I am happy to hear from a man who played a key role in Apple’s past, I can’t help but feel that he comes off as a little self-serving in an attempt to polish up a tarnished legacy at Apple.
- Whether you care for the Newton or not, it’s impossible to not be impressed with the commitment of the fan community that still loves and supports a device that’s been off the market for 20 years. Apple fans are known for their dedication and loyalty, but this crew is at a completely different level.
- The sense of fun around the Newton, from the animations to the Easter Eggs, harkens back to a part of Apple that feels like it’s been lost to mainstream success and massive scale. Noah Leon did a great job of capturing this, from covering it directly with the people who created the device, to adding homages throughout the film. Just watch it to see what I am talking about.
- Along the same lines, the irony of Paul Guyot and Matthias Melcher, the developers of the Einstein Newton emulator, having to shift development from iOS to Android is not lost on me. Not only has Apple lost its sense of humor in many respects, but their refusal to throw the Newton fan community a bone by open-sourcing the Newton assets, or at least by acknowledging their existence and the impact of the platform on mobile technology today, just comes off as petty and pointlessly stubborn.
- I expected the historical coverage, and wasn’t disappointed. I knew there would be plenty of discussion with fans and users, and there was. However, I was genuinely surprised by a few poignant and moving moments during the course of the film. There are some captivating human stories surrounding the Newton, both happy and sad, and they add a depth to the film that I didn’t expect.
- Steve Jobs’ email about the future of the Newton after the separate company that was briefly spun out was brought back into Apple is eye-opening. Again, watch the movie to see what I am talking about. It’s hard not to wonder if the intent of those word was genuine at the time they were written. They seem to be, and it’s crazy to think about how different things could have been if they had come to pass.
Love Notes to Newton does cover a ton of ground in both the history of the device and the fan community in a short period of time. It really has to be that way, since the two are inexorably linked. It does meander a bit because of this, but I would rather have all of tidbits and stories contained in the film than more of a laser focus that would likely leave some of it out.
While I am an Apple fan, and I have a casual interest in the Newton platform, I am not at the level of the fans interviewed here. Despite that, I don’t believe that the appeal of Love Notes to Newton is limited to them. At the end of the day, it is a solid film that held my interest throughout.
Love Notes to Newton will be premiered tomorrow at the Macstock Conference and Expo in Woodstock, IL. The film will be available for purchase soon after. You can find it at Vimeo here. Also, be sure to give Noah Leon a follow on Twitter @moosefuel. As I have said multiple times, if you are an Apple fan, it is worth your time and money to see it.